• Is Your Phone System on the Payroll?

    March 1, 2007
    Since you are good friends and, by my standards, a captive audience, I thought I would take this opportunity to share one of my major concerns about the

    Since you are good friends and, by my standards, a captive audience, I thought I would take this opportunity to share one of my major concerns about the future of our business. I'm referring to the continued dominance of automated telephone- answering systems that depend on fostering service and customer relations.

    Maybe it is just me, but it seems the world has fallen into a technology abyss with ultramodern telephone systems designed to provide the utmost in economy and efficiency while never allowing The Customer to talk to another live, hopefully-still-taking nourishment human being. I am even getting to the point that I don't care if the person speaks English well; all they have to do is grunt once for yes and two for no, and I am happy.

    To demonstrate my concern: My Internet service failed recently, and this forced me to contact my Internet service provider, a very large multinational supplier. As usual, I got the initial prompt for English and Spanish, which is fine. Then I moved into a series of prompts beginning with: Do you have a question related to payments, billing, account status, adding service, changing service and even ending service? But never: Is your service working? Then they put you in the queue for the next available representative. I'll never understand it, but no matter when I call, they never have enough representatives available to answer the calls immediately. So I sit and waste another 30 minutes of my time, only because I need service. I won't bore you with the IQ level of the representative I was finally able to speak with, but only after suffering through a disconnection and a re-call… suffice it to say it further topped off my experience.

    So when was the last time you called your company to see how well your automated system was servicing your customers? I talk to a lot of people in this industry in their offices, and the big ISP I described has nothing on us, I'm afraid to say. In calling our members, we understand the first question you face after a machine or voicemail answers your call is: Do you know the extension of your party? Again, I don't know about everyone else, but I'll guarantee you the only people who know their party's extension are spouses, children or mothers; not a group that brings tons of revenue into our businesses. Even more frustrating is that after you go through the cumbersome process of finding the person on the company directory, you get transferred directly to that person's extension. At no time do they tell you the extension so you can save your time on your next call. And again, the party you're trying to reach is usually in the office but away from their desk, so you leave a message feeling glad that at least that ordeal is finally over. Do you think your customers ever feel that way?

    I can never understand why businesses risk frustrating their customers by making it difficult to do business with them. I have to admit I'm spoiled. I come from businesses that always had a receptionist, and I can attest these receptionists were responsible for more business and repeat customers than many of the salespeople. And there were always jobs to keep them busy and spread the administrative cost. (Although I think it would have been more appropriate to charge them to the sales department.) At least some wholesalers have incoming calls directed to the counter personnel, and while they may not be as smooth as a receptionist, at least the customer knows immediately that someone cares about them and their time.

    Just a thought.

    Don Frendberg,
    Executive vice president / COO