When All The Humans Are Gone From Customer Support

from the can't-find-them-anywhere! dept

The NY Times is running an article similar to ones that others have run before, noting how incredibly difficult it is to actually get a human on the phone these days when you need customer support from a company. While many people know the "tricks" such as hitting 0 to get around the painful menus, it looks like some companies are spending more time making it harder for customers to reach humans (rather than, say, actually figuring out ways to help their customers). This means that the "0" trick won't always work -- though, sometimes hitting it three or four times in a row will get you through. Other tricks include hitting the * key in the hopes of getting a company directory. What's still not clear is why companies do this. Most of these automated systems simply keep people on these phone calls for a longer period of time and tend to piss them off. My favorite system so far was a Comcast system that required me to go through twelve menus before I could speak to a human, whose first question to me was "what phone number are you calling from" when in step two or three I had specifically punched in my phone number.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Nathan, 29 Dec 2004 @ 7:42pm

    No Subject Given

    As a veteran in the trenches of tech support I can tell you that companies are looking purely at the cost/benefit ratio of letting customer speak to live people.

    We were once told that a phone call to our department was calculated to 'cost' the company $50. Now, the fact that our customers pay nearly $1,000 per year for support makes me feel as if our company is attempting to slight customers.
    They constantly try to push people to use our online support knowledge base or our e-mail support system rather than encourage letting them call in.

    I understand that some poobah in upper management is probably looking at a spreadsheet somewhere, and they're trying to find the fine balance between just how much customers will put up with and accept vs. how many customers they can keep on support plans. To tell the truth, I prefer they call in and talk to me because I'm more likely to help them fix the issue on the first go-around rather than let them try to fix it themselves with the solutions in the online knowledgebase and make a bigger mess, which only results in a LONGER phone call.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      John Dowdell, 31 Dec 2004 @ 1:59pm

      Re: No Subject Given

      "As a veteran in the trenches of tech support I can tell you that companies are looking purely at the cost/benefit ratio of letting customer speak to live people."

      I'm a customer-service veteran too, but I see the balancing act a little differently: "Should we charge everyone for the one-on-one contact which follows a power-law distribution?" (ie, a few people use the majority of such contacts... the question these days is whether the chooser pays, or whether that cost is socialized out among all customers.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TJ, 29 Dec 2004 @ 7:49pm

    Internet vs Phone support

    Years of interfacing with companies both through phone systems and through web / e-mail / IM support has convinced me that Internet support can be far superior. One exception would be the ISP of course, where complete service outages are concerned.

    One can get through web menus much quicker than listening to phone menus, web pages can offer much more content and so are usually less 'deep' in structure. Even better, accents aren't a problem with typed text, web FAQ's and knowledge searches sometimes are helpful, many common needs can be automated more easily than by phone call. Best of all is when support is utterly useless you have a written log of the nonsense to share with a supervisor, customer relations dept, media relations dept, or on the web or Usenet.

    Nevertheless if a company only sees support as a nuisance, rather than a way to assist and foster good will and loyalty amongst their customers, they may design a mean-spirited useless web support site too. But in the long term companies are likely to understand that serving as many support needs quickly via the web as possible will save on human staffing and toll-free number costs. For example, Maxtor already provides diagnostic software for hard drives that issues a special unique fault code for most bad drives. Customer runs diagnostic, which company insists be done anyway, can key in the unique number and the serial number to an RMA web page, and get a replacement drive without ever being on hold and without speaking to a clueless level 1 support drone.

    So I welcome the near elimination of the need for phone support, and listening to endless bad hold music mixed with 'we care about your business' messages that keeping teasing you into thinking you might have finally gotten through.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Beck, 29 Dec 2004 @ 9:44pm

    Cheaper to Give Money Away

    One time I believed there was a mistake on my phone bill, they charged me $7.50 too much. I called the phone company, went through the menus, and selected the option to request a credit on my phone bill. Then I was supposed to type in the amount of the mistake. I typed 750, hit the pound key, and the machine told me the credit would be on my next bill.

    It was actually less expensive for them to just give me the money than to pay someone to look into the issue and see if I was mistaken!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2004 @ 5:35am

    Talk to the han....er...machine?

    The most irritating thing to come out lately is the autmated systems that insist I speak the options. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not about to lower myself to talking to a da*n machine. Just give me the keypad options and be done with it, at least. I went through a phone call just a couple of days ago that took over 30 minutes because of this issue(the company was paying for the call, so it didn't bother me as much as it might have). Had the menus been designed so I could have used the keypad, it would have been 2 minutes, tops. Instead, the machine just repeats 'Say x if you want y' 5 times before giving the keypad options.

    Also, I don't put in account numbers anymore. I got tired of typing a 20 digit number only to be asked for the *very* *same* *number* by the customer support representative. If I was asked to type it in, then WHY didn't the rep. get the number when I was connected through? Yet another waste of time, imho.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anonymous, 30 Dec 2004 @ 7:30am

    No Subject Given

    Call it the "Un-Wal-Mart Syndrome." I used to wonder with awe as my exwife took items she didn't even BUY at Wal-Mart and return them there. They took everything no quesitons asked. Why? It was cheaper to eat it and keep the customer.

    It's a funny thing. Let your customers take advantage of you willingly and you can become the LARGEST COMPANY IN THE WORLD.

    Treat your customers like dirt, and all you get is write-ups in the New York Times about how sh* your customer service is.

    And who cares really? That senior vice-president who just outsourced 200 tech support humans to a telephone black-hole operating out of Lower Mongolia just got a nice big fat Christmas bonus and a golden parachute clause in his exit contract for creating a way for the company to meet the profit projections his dumb CEO made to Wall Street.

    Who cares if customer's bail in droves. That guy made HIS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Roger, 30 Dec 2004 @ 9:33am

    No Subject Given

    Two days ago, I tried to speak with the local branch office of a nationwide securities firm. The phone book lists all of their branches with the same toll-free number. It is answered by a computer voice requesting that you tell it what you need. No matter what I responded, it couldn't understand that I wanted to speak with someone in a specific branch office.

    Eventually, it kept asking me for my SSN, my account number, or my internet logon (for my account). I didn't even have an account number yet. I was about to drop off some paperwork there to open a new account and it needed notarization. All I wanted to know is if there was a notary public at the office so I didn't have to make a separate stop first.

    Speakeing "operator" or "agent" didn't help, it just kep asking for my social security or account number.

    After about 10 minutes, I somehow reached a human. When I told her what I wanted to know, she called the branch and relayed the info to me...wouldn't even let me speak with someone directly.

    At the branch, I was told that they don't have a local number.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2004 @ 11:54am

      Re: No Subject Given

      The easieast way to deal with shitty customer non service is to place the phone on speaker phone and go about your business until someone answers.
      Let the fuckers pay for the call.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2004 @ 12:39pm

        Re: No Subject Given

        I don't mind (at least not all *that* much) the tedious menus and whatnot as much as I mind the typical complete inability to keep track of a caller's personal information!

        The most infuriating thing is, I call, get the "first level" tech, give him all my personal information, a detailed explanation of my problem, get transferred to a higher level tech... at which point I have to go through all of that *AGAIN*, including repeating my phone number and address and all that BS! And the detailed explanation of the problem again!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Nathan, 30 Dec 2004 @ 7:31pm

        Re: No Subject Given

        I have no problem with customers doing that, just remember to pick up when I start speaking, or you get disconnected in 30 seconds :o).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.