How poor customer-call management can cut into your bottom line
“Your call is very important to us.” We’ve all heard it when we call most businesses and government agencies these days.
Important — really? To businesses, what happens next in this interaction may mean the difference between retaining brand loyalty or losing a frustrated customer.
This is according to a host of North Bay and U.S. company officials and economists who weighed in with professional and personal experiences of automated phone system failings.
And now a national survey polling 1,000 U.S. adults backs up the source of sarcasm that’s worsened during the pandemic. The enraging circumstances are best summed up by a Facebook post: “Please stay on the line until the call is no longer important to you.”
The OnePoll survey commissioned last summer by TCN, a St. George, Utah, cloud-based telecommunications firm, found that over half of callers (52%) want “to get through to a live agent.”
Though survey-takers said they were willing to be on hold for 6 minutes, they end up hanging on for nearly three times longer, or an average of 17.4 minutes.
Andrew McNeil, principal of Arrow Benefits Group in Petaluma, complained that he once waited on hold for over an hour conducting business with an insurance company before a customer service representative came on the line.
“Thank God,” he cried out, before gasping when the representative answered as if she couldn’t hear him on the line: “Hello? Hello? Hello?”
“Then she said: ‘Just kidding,’” McNeil recalled, reminding himself at the time to maintain a sense of humor.
McNeil said he avoids calling conglomerates these days because their phone systems are more apt to be fully automated. The better systems allow for the caller to leave a prompt to get a call back, avoiding the need to be hold.
According to the survey, the disconnect between a robo-type phone system and the callers varies by industry and demographic.
When asked in the survey how likely or unlikely they were to “abandon a brand after a poor customer service experience,” about two-thirds of respondents in two prime demographics — Gen Zers (65%, ages 18-24) and millennials (61%, ages 25-40) — indicated they would move on.
When asked what entity is “the worst to get a hold of,” the cable and wireless industry received the lowest marks (43%). Inquiries to the California Cable and Telecom Association to address the issue were unreturned.
Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Peter Rumble contends that companies like cell phone providers have a large toehold in their markets, so in the absence of competition, it’s easier to provide substandard service.
“It’s like the race to the bottom,” he said, adding he’s grateful his membership is dominated by smaller businesses that advocate for human interactions.
John Mackey, senior vice president and managing director for the Santa Rosa’s Exchange Bank’s investment and fiduciary services, represents the industry that fared the best in the TCN poll, with 68% of respondents saying “they are extremely or somewhat satisfied” with results of calling banks. Health care organizations came in second.
Why did banks rank the highest?
Mackey suggests banks were rated best in answering calls because financial institutions were early adopters of automated phone systems in the 1980s, so they’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. At the time, banks were tapped to make and take transcontinental calls between people conducting a variety of transactions in different time zones at all hours.
“Banks were prepped for this,” he said.
Mackey has experienced the infuriating circumstances from a poorly-managed phone tree.
“When I make those calls, I cut the process off really early, so I don’t damage equipment or hurt anybody near me,” he joked.
Exchange Bank’s Customer Experience Manager Beth Ryan said call handling is more important these days. Fewer workers are managing a higher call volume, with customers having more time on their hands to call.
“We’ve seen an increase in call volume and wait time, and we’re not comfortable with that,” Ryan said. Plugging in a “call back” feature into the bank’s system has turned out to be helpful, she said.
Ryan pointed out how the call center representatives are doing the best they can to handle a multitude of situations, some among people who could be “one step away from their last straw” during the pandemic.
“There’s awful stuff happening out there,” she said, listing fraud, hacks and virus-related problems. “I have the best job in the world, but it can be heartbreaking. We’re all going through a lot.”