Your Call Is Not Important To Us


I have recently changed mobile service providers. The experiences I’ve had calling my old provider (Vodafone Australia) to cancel my plan and my new one (Telstra Australia) to buy their products have made it clear to me that companies that employ call centres for customer enquiries (mostly) have it completely wrong by modern customer service standards. Its seems really simple – so why does no one get it?

“…Your call is important to us, a customer care representative will be with you are soon as possible…”

imageSo I've been on hold for 25 minutes to Vodafone Australia. I think they may have sensed I was unhappy and calling to cancel my account – it just seems too coincidental that the longest time i have sat on hold in memory just happens to be when i call to close my account.

So i continue to sit on hold, listening to an ever looping piano track.

But this is not a new thing. We’ve all experienced it.

Customer service Is simple stupid

If you were going to setup a company/business tomorrow you’d operate under the assumption that the customer is king. This would extend to everything you would do – good customer service is the easiest way to lift your market share; make a customers experience so good, that they sell you to their friends. I’ve heard of a number of start ups recently that have doubled their market share by doing nothing but shifting their marketing budget to their support lines.

You would take this single idea of serving the customer and spread it across all your marketing efforts and every transaction you do with them. We are in 2011 (almost 2012… wow time flies), so this would weight your decisions towards every business move you make in a big way.

If you had a twitter feed you’d make sure to reply to a mention within a few hours max (if you break this golden rule, you are simply doing social media marketing wrong). If you had an email you’d make an effort to reply to the sender within 24 hours (i believe in some instances an auto response is acceptable, but at the same time very similar to hearing on hold music – keep this in mind). If customers visited your website and needed support you’d setup a live chat. If customers called your place of business you’d pick up the phone… wait a second… what? that’s crazy.

If someone walked into your store…

This all brings me to my greatest single point of reference – human beings have been trading with each other for years, and i can bet you that when the romans were trading in their Forums they didn’t make people sit and wait for 20 minutes before talking to them. that's crazy talk; they’d lose business that way. if you have a shop front, and someone walks into your store, you engage them instantly.

This very thought is huge right now in the Australian physical marketplace. A number of banks in Australia have taken this territory as real ground to compete on. Often they actually place a concierge at the front door to help direct you to the right service representative so that you don’t have to think about your reason for being there and increase their branch dwell time – It’s a proven technique. It works. Telstra does this in their stores a lot now too.

So when did it become acceptable to treat customers like shit?

Share holders like money, CEOs like to show short term gains to get their bonuses easily. Somewhere in the last 30 years the use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems came along and the rise of VOIP lead to the rise of the Indian call centre – and CEOs lipped their lips with glee.

All of a sudden the opportunity to lower costs must have seemed simply too good to miss. Couple this with a time before social media where you had to engage someone like Roy Morgan to actually call people in their homes and ask them questions to find out if they were unhappy and you have a perfect storm of customer dissatisfaction joined at the hip with a double whammy of actually having to spend more marketing budget to find out if people liked your changes or not. I don’t think many companies paid for enough market research (hell, they were trying to cut costs right? spending extra budget on research defeats the point!). The status quo changed. All of a sudden it was OK to make people listen to Bach on repeat for 30 minutes before you served them. And that’s how it’s stayed for a long time now.

Times, they are a changing…

Some companies have woken up and smelt the coffee. A number of them come to mind straight away when thinking about good customer experiences – Aami Insurance uses this very situation as it’s key differentiator by saying “You’ll always speak to a real person” in all of its marketing material. Aami is my insurance company – something must have worked.

Aami Insurance “What about Me” Campaign

If i was working at a Telco present day, assessing the shift in all my power towards phone manufacturers such as Apple and this ever pressing migration to being simply “dumb pipes” I’d be taking stock of my customer engagement options in a very serious way. I’d be looking at ways to stand out from my competitors other than download limits. Changing my call centres to move to always speaking to a real person when you call seems like an easy win… no?

End Game

While I can whinge all i want about this, I feel I may be yelling into a vacuum. If i was a service provider like Vodafone or Telstra I’d be stupid not to see the opportunity – By making sure that you speak to a real person straight away you’d be a market leader in a market where the key differentiators are disappearing fast. People do notice this kind of thing… Just sayin’.