• United States
by Steve Taylor and Larry Hettick

Customer service can be better

Jan 29, 20033 mins

* "If you can't find the info on our Web site, please don't call"

The true power of convergence may show itself when it enables next-generation applications that haven’t been fully defined or demonstrated yet. But there’s one certainty: The companies that get there first with these converged applications will gain significant competitive advantages.

In our last column, we did a bit of ranting and raving about the lack of enhanced customer service in call centers today. We hear of endless complaints about long “telephone logic trees” that you have to go through to finally get placed on hold to possibly speak with a human being. You enter your account number, your phone number, and your dog’s date of birth – only to be asked to repeat the information because “the computer lost it.”

Even if you were calling to congratulate a company, odds are pretty good that by the time you finally speak to somebody, you’re totally frustrated and want to start screaming.

But life doesn’t have to be this way. An integrated contact center that combines the best of a Web presence with real-time database updates and “click to talk” capabilities could be just around the corner. In fact, the final technical limitation – if one exists – is having all of the two-way speech capabilities universally available on PCs.

Still, as a first step call centers could become “outbound” to respond to Web-based requests.

This approach can indeed build customer loyalty. Steve’s reward for spending a good part of the year sitting on USAir is a special telephone number for reservations that, after entering the appropriate frequent flyer number and security information, has a real person pick up with, “Hello, Mr. Taylor. Which of your reservations can I help you with?”

However, short of implementing personal service for everybody who calls, there’s a simple step that could greatly help everybody. If you have anything at all to do with an automated call center, please IMMEDIATELY get rid of those announcements that tell everybody that they could get better service if they simply accessed your Web site. These messages are passé, and they only generate animosity, because the world has evolved past this into two categories of callers. One group is calling because they don’t have Web access. The other group is calling because the Web functions were inadequate for whatever they needed to do. Instead, use this “hold time” for getting the caller to a real person quicker.

If you have examples of companies that you deal with – not your own company, please – that you think have implemented particularly useful contact centers, please send us e-mail and let us know who they are and why you like interacting with them. We’ll give the results in a future newsletter. (We would also ask for particularly annoying call centers, but our mailboxes have size limits.)