By | September 20, 2006

In a recent podcast, Jeff Hoyt put it best when he asked why it is marketing departments spend all their money to reach customers and call centers spend all their money avoiding customers. We have probably all heard Mr. Hoyt numerous times in his capacity as a voiceover artist, and he admitting to doing voice recordings for interactive voice response systems.

We found reference to his podcast from the Customer Service Experience, a blog on Allbusiness.com. We like their suggestions on how to improve the customer experience. Unfortunately, we note a lack of companies taking much of their advice. Perhaps we should send them all a link…although we’d probably get a nice email form letter back.

Two weeks ago, we commented on the subject of call centers in a post. Talking to call centers of all types continues to trouble us. In a recent series of calls to our local telephone repair service, their IVR advised us of excessive hold times every single time, and three out of four times, our call was answered immediately once they finished trying to convince us to use their automated system.

Interactive Voice Response(IVR) systems should take the simple issues away from agents. For telephone reservations systems, frequently, when we call, they collect all our information…our reference number, where we want to go to or from, and other forms of information…but when we get to an agent, this information is somehow not available to them and they ask for it again. Thus we wonder what the point was of wasting our time. If they want to have the information pop up on the agent’s screen when the call connects…why not do it?

Jeff Hoyt advised something we’ve heard many times before, which we call the Jabberwocky method. Essentially, speak unintelligably. Say nonsense words. These systems are often programmed to dump you to an agent fast should they be unable to understand you. Of course, if they are programmed to avoid transferring you to a human being unless the sky is falling…there is little you can do. They may just disconnect you if you try this. There is also the old man method…pretend you think you are talking to a real person…”Hello, hello? What’s your name again, sonny?”
Ultimately, we think that we, and you, our readers, are intelligent people. As intelligent people, we demand that the companies we choose to do business to treat us intelligently. When we call, we expect automated systems to be used for the dispensing of simple information, for the collection of simple information. And when we need the reassurance of a human being, we expect to find one(assuming the office is open, of course).

Once we get this human being, we expect to be treat as intelligent people. We expect, not necessarilly that the agent on the other end is intelligent, but that he or she is knowledgable in the subject to which they are providing service and capable of assisting us. Why a company would hire someone to read information off the company website to people is beyond us. We know many people are not internet-literate, or well-versed in products…but assuming all people who call for help don’t know what they are doing is a bad move.

In our calls to online travel agencies and airlines, we’ve found personnel who are not familar with the basic terms of the industry…ones common to all airlines. If you can call someone charged with handling airline passengers who doesn’t know what a fare basis is or where to find it on a ticket…you are in trouble. For your information, a fare basis is the code that indicates the fare under which you are booked for all or part of your itinerary. By having that code, you can look up the fare as published, and review the rules and restrictions of the fare. An example of one is S14AMZN, which is a commonly used 14-day advance purchase one-way fare on American Airlines.

A bad customer service experience can induce a passenger to another airline, even if it means more money. With the changes in USAirways, one Phoenix passenger, an elite frequent flyer, was so disappointed that they switched to Continental, necessitating a change in Houston on the majority of their reservations.

We repeat our request for airlines to give their call center employees the training they need as well as incentives to stay and grow with the company instead of the current high turnover situation. We would not complain if these jobs were returned to the United States, but as customers, we would rather have someone helpful than not. And until companies are more concerned with this…we say to them and their automated systems…

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Author: Guru

Guru is the Editor of Flight Wisdom and a long time aviation enthusiast.