Talking to customer service

If you are in management and you haven't tried it, talk to your customer-service reps about your customers. It will be some of the most profitable discussion you can have. That is, if you can get through your own IVR system.

It is said that talk is cheap. Unfortunately it is not cheap enough, so when we saw an opportunity to save money and get better service we switched all our phones to Vonage and our DSL service from a static IP address to a dynamic one. Unfortunately this brave new world of better service and lower cost has yet to materialize.

Shortly after the DSL service change the VoIP service started failing. I won't tell you the tedious tale of figuring out that it wasn't Vonage's problem, but I finally determined that our DSL service had become unstable.

So, today I phoned SBC (of course I couldn't call them using my VoIP service), I navigated its wretched interactive voice response (IVR) front end and enthusiastically cursed whoever designed it.

Actually it is amazing how bad the majority of IVR systems are. A great example of an awful IVR system belongs to the Albertson's supermarket chain. Should you have a complaint there's a customer service number on each receipt, but just try to get to a human being. If you don't wind up enraged and frustrated, you are up for sainthood.

Anyway, back to SBC: After entering my DSL telephone number, the number where I could be contacted, my weight, my height, my blood type and finally dividing by the first number I thought of, I finally got a level-one customer service wonk in, I suspect, Bangalore.

Knowing that whatever I told the level-one wonk would only result in having to tell the same story all over again to a level-two wonk, I simply requested a level-two wonk straight away. If you call SBC and don't try to jump up a level, the level-one people will simply follow their script until they hit a brick wall and admit they can't help you. They will then hand you over to a level-two wonk anyway. Cut out the middleman is my philosophy. It will shorten your time talking with SBC by up to an hour.

Even so, I had to give the level-two wonk most of the same information I had already given to the IVR system. Off went the level-two wonk to check the line. "Yep," he confirmed a couple of minutes later, "there is a problem so we'll contact you within the next glacial epoch and get an engineer out to you."

So, I'm waiting. But while I am, I've been pondering SBC's customer service system. Why does its IVR system demand data from you before you can get access to anyone but then fail to transfer that data along with your call?

It is not just SBC that fails in this area; it is a common issue with scores of companies large and small. Ask a customer service representative (CSR) - should you be lucky enough to get a warm body on the line - whether he can pass a comment along to management. Most CSRs will tell you that they can't because they never actually get to see management!

It seems all that customer intelligence that CSRs learn just doesn't matter to the guys in the corner offices. This is incredible! By simply talking to the people in your organization who interact with customers you can find out cheaply how to improve service to your market. Why wouldn't you do so? It can only be attributed to laziness or ignorance.

And I wonder if SBC's senior management has ever had to call in and use their own IVR services? If they had, wouldn't you think they'd do something about them? But then again, they also don't talk to their CSRs.

If you are in management and you haven't tried it, talk to your CSRs about your customers. It will be some of the most profitable discussion you can have. That is, if you can get through your own IVR system.

Press backspin@gibbs.com to send a message to me. Press www.networkworld.com/weblogs/gearblog to check Gearblog. Have a nice day.

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