Learning from frustration

I’m moving this week (new mailing address: Box 305, Irvington, NY 10533).

That meant a grueling marathon with the single worst voice routing VR system the world has ever known: Verizon.

Rants online can be good for the soul, but it’s way more interesting as a marketer to learn from what’s not working.

Most often, a frustrating situation is frustrating not because the tactics were broken, but because the strategy is fundamentally flawed. In this case, Verizon is acting like a monopoly (they’re not, at least not any more) and they are viewing customer interactions as an expense, not an investment.

If you view calls from paying customers as expensive, then your goal will be to cut the cost of these interactions. That means fewer hours, more voice recognition and more wasted time by your customers. Once you’ve gone down that road, everything else seems like a soft-hearted, expensive compromise.

So, I start by flipping this on its head. Verizon spends a fortune on advertising and outbound marketing. How much of that budget would they have to allocate/invest in order to turn their customer service into a discussion-worthy best in the world? Or at least enough to keep people from switching in disgust? Not much, it turns out.

This leads quite easily to the first conceptual breakthrough: waste your time, not mine! Be open 24 hours a day, because, after all, the amount of customer service you need to do doesn’t decrease if you work fewer hours. In other words, spread your people around so they can talk when your customers want to talk.

Wait, you say, we can’t afford to have our trained engineers working at night, or they won’t work those hours.

No problem. Instead of using a VR system, just route the calls to a different time zone, to alert, kind, English-speaking folks who will carefully enter every detail into a database,  including the return contact info and the best time to call back.

Now, when I call, I spend less than a minute or two with you. The phone is answered on the first ring. Someone sympathetic gets every single detail. Magically, using the best technologies of telemarketing, my cell phone rings at the appointed hour and the right person with the right expertise and the right file in front of them is sitting at the other end, just waiting to talk with me! Instead of wasting my energy with six (yes, I had six, and that was just today) people who couldn’t help me, I get to talk to one who can. In fact, this process actually saves Verizon money.

Wait, there’s more.

We need deadend safeguards, too. That means after someone has been on hold for more than xx minutes, the call automatically gets escalated to a more powerful person who can take action right then, right there. (Can you agree that this should happen after 4 hours? What about 40 minutes?)

It means that you don’t ask me to type in my phone number or account number, but if you insist, then at the very least you make sure that the person who eventually gets my call doesn’t ask me for my number again! Getting this wrong for three years in a row is not an error. It’s arrogance.

If you have to put me on hold, don’t play bad 1980s music. Play me Bill Cosby or Steven Wright. Or why not give me a choice of 100 songs/audiobooks to choose from?

Here’s the big lesson, I think: The person calling in is a person, a customer, potentially a blogger, potentially the CEO of a company you might want to sell to tomorrow, and yes, the person you’ve spent all that time and money marketing to.

It’s not about technology. A small firm could accomplish all this with a decent Radio Shack answering machine and a better attitude.