I’ve been talking with my students this week about how companies maintain or lose customer satisfaction with consumers, and the topic always brings up good and bad personal experiences.
On the negative side (and there are more of these than positive ones), I wrote in this blog two summers back about how Capital One had declared me dead, causing me all kinds of credit problems at the exact time I was trying to get a home mortgage.
Even after I finally got a human voice (albeit from a foreign call center) to admit he believed I was alive, he told me “the computers are in charge, however,” and they had from 30-45 days to investigate and resolve the problem.
On the up side — and this may sound ironic given the stereotype of this government agency — I have found the IRS to be extremely helpful over the years. It’s easier to get a human and knowledgeable voice on the other end of the line with the Internal Revenue Service than with United Airlines, even when all you’re trying to do is buy their service.
For the purposes of this blog, however, I am most interested in the intersection of communication technology and customer satisfaction. It’s no stretch to say that the inability to talk to a human being, and the dehumanizing experience of talking to a digital signal, is probably the No. 1 cause of customer dissatisfaction in America.
A popular topic
Author Laura Penny has even written a book about this, appropriately called, Your Call is Important to Us: The Truth About Bull—-.” The cover features a large shovel, and the first chapter is called, “You’re Soaking in It.”
More than any other lie that corporate America would spin onto consumers, “Your call is very important to us,” is the one that sends most consumers through the roof. We know a long delay awaits and — even then — we will be handed a digitized voice to talk to.
The dehmanizing side
This whole dehumanizing concept of requiring customers to talk to robots, or at least a voice from a call center on another continent, was dramatized in the George Clooney film, Up in the Air. In that film’s most tragic and poignant scene, we see a veteran, dedicated company employee being fired by a detached voice from a computer screen. He starts to weep; the computer is unable to mimic of even register that emotion.
We know that technology is very important to customer satisfaction. If a business doesn’t avail itself of Web 2.0 communication technology, that can — in itself — become a cause for disgruntled customers. We want multiple access points to a company we deal with, starting with Web access.
NBRI weighs in
As one of its ten tips to customer satisfaction, The National Business Research Institute (NBRI) lists the need to give customers Web access to your business and to make it easy for them to place their orders. It explains:
“Technology means more than a fancy Flash website. In order to satisfy customers, companies have to keep up with the latest technological advances or suffer the consequences. Change is never easy, but business as usual isn’t a viable alternative anymore. Technology can help small and mid-size companies look like big companies by improving the quality of the purchasing experience without adding staff to the payroll.”
Twisting its use
But taking that same technology and turning it into a demeaning obstacle to the goal of customer interaction … therein lies the rub.
Turns out, I’m far from being alone in my assessment. Wall Street Journal columnist Gary Hamel penned an entire column about this, entitled, “Your Call is Important to Us. Yeah, Sure.” He writes:
“What irks me most, though, is when companies barricade their customer support staff behind a near impenetrable wall of multi-level telephone prompts. I mean, golly, you’d think I was trying to get through the White House switchboard rather than obtain a part number for my broken dishwasher.
“I get the fact that companies are trying to keep their call center costs to a minimum—but I wish they’d at least be honest about that. (But) Instead of telling us: We are experiencing unusually heavy call volumes . . .
“They should say: Even more of our underpaid and overworked staff called in sick than usual.
“Instead of telling us: You may be able to find what you need on our Web site . . .
They should say: There are 10 people in the world who still haven’t heard about the Internet and we want to make sure you’re not one of them.”
Thanks Gary. You think the decision-makers at Capital One and United Airlines ever read columns and blogs?
One can only hope. A call from one of them, about this issue, is one I would wait for.