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Human Factors

12 ideas to make calling customer service less hellish

July 05, 2016

Two weeks ago, I had to do something that I don't really enjoy. No, not a visit to the dentist or cleaning the basement. I had to call customer service.

I called two companies. One call was for a malfunctioning computer and the other was regarding a cell phone plan. In each instance, I spoke with three different people. Both calls started off similarly, "Hi, my name is XYZ, how can I help you?"

For the computer company call, the first two customer service representatives could not address my question directly and directed me to a third representative. At each hand-off, the reps briefed each other on my problem so that I did not have to rehash my story. My problem was not solved but at the end of the phone conversation I thought that it was time well spent in finding a solution.

The experience with the cell phone company was quite different. After the first representative was unable to answer my question, I was transferred to another department. I was asked to state my name and question again. After a few minutes of discussion, I was transferred to another department. Again I was asked to state my name and problem. By then, the sound of my name was not very pleasant to my ears and I refused to comply. Things immediately went downhill and soon the conversation was over. I hung up with no answer and have since mentally blacklisted the company.

In each case, my problem was not addressed but my perceptions of the companies (not just the customer service) were vastly different. In the first case, I felt like a team of representatives was working together to help solve my problem. They were communicating with me and each other as if they are all together on the other side of the phone call. In the second case, I felt like a hot potato that was being tossed around. The people I spoke with had no prior idea of my problem, were simply following a script and were not in a position to simply say that they could not help me. I had to make that determination myself and terminate the call.

My experience does not appear to be an outlier. Fifty-seven percent of respondents of a Consumer Reports survey about their experiences with customer service centers report hanging up the phone without a resolution. A list of consumer complaints about customer service can be found here. All this while another study claims that consumer satisfaction is at the same level as it was in the 1970s. Fifty-six percent of respondents reported feeling like they walked away empty-handed after complaining to customer service.

As products become more complicated, customer service is a critical component of what every company sells.

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Sketch of a phone