Death to “we are experiencing higher than normal call volume”.

Last week I finally found the time to dedicate an entire day to calling various home service providers and product brands with which I have been having issues throughout the year. In most of the cases, I had made a note to call as the issue arose, however, other priorities kept creeping up. This was the day I was going to get it all done.

I interacted with three companies and had three very different experiences. Rather than publicly shaming or praising each company, I’ve decided to just list some high-level takeaways from my experience. I think this year is going to mark a significant turning point for customer service, both online and offline.

Bots still need work, but it’s the right direction.

As the web shifts from “public social” to “private social” (also called the “dark social”) so to are companies trying to join in on the fun by creating customer service bots, complete with their own personas and increasingly freaky artificial intelligence. One of the companies encouraged interaction via their new Facebook Messenger Bot. I sent it a message with my issue and waited excitedly. A full five minutes later I got a message back saying “Hi my name is [x] how may I help you?”. I re-sent the message again and waited assuming it didn’t receive the first one.  After another 5 minutes I sent a question mark. I got a message back saying that there is always a 3-5 minute delay before they get my message with the technology they are using. Naturally texting a customer service issue at that speed simply doesn’t work for me. I gave up on that channel and ended up solving the issue via good ‘ol internet chat and screen sharing feature instead.

Tip: When implementing a messenger bot customer service strategy, ensure the experience is exactly as speedy and seamless as a customer messaging his/her friends. Any delays beyond looking into an issue (in which case you let the customer know), are simply unacceptable.

If you’re not offering an auto-call back when it’s busy (or at least planning to in the near future), you will not survive for long.

The next company I called, pushed people to its phone support. Upon calling I was greeted with some elevator music along with “we are experiencing higher than normal call volume, please stay on the line”. Ugh! In 2016 (almost 2017) there are so many things wrong with this kind of message. First of all, the technology exists to call me back when someone does free up, especially when there is higher than normal call volume. Is that such a big ask? No of course not. But it’s the easy way out for companies as most people will drop the call after a few minutes. What most organizations don’t realize is that the feeling that a customer gets when hearing this kind of message (and realizing you are wasting their time), rapidly erodes any brand equity that they may have built up over time and speaks volumes about just how little they value their customers. The worst part is that many are kept waiting and essentially slow-cook to a boil in this emotional state (in my case it was 35 minutes).

Tip: If you’re going to remain uncreative and use the standard “higher than normal call volume” message on your phone support, then please have the decency for customers to press “1” to leave a number that we can be reached at when a customer service rep becomes available.

If you offer something to a customer on one interaction, don’t try to deny it on another.

Finally, I made a call to a service provider where I was simply inquiring about the status of a refund payment I was promised on a prior call (on which I spent a good 45 minutes). Sure enough, the individual put me on hold and 10 minutes later came back only to transfer me to a manager who proceeded to ask me if I was sure I was told I’d get a refund because they do not offer refunds.  Luckily I had written down the confirmation # and had also somehow had the foresight to record the previous call on my smartphone. I told the manager to please look it up in their files and listen to the conversation on file (I hadn’t given them my recording yet). Long story short, after coming back to me saying they have nothing about a refund in their records, I had to shame them with my recording. I got my refund.

Tip: Don’t lie.