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Answer the call of service

LEGOStarWarsLast weekend, my 7 year-old was the ring bearer in a family wedding. It was a formal outdoor wedding that required Cooper to wear a tuxedo. (Insight: Most 7 year-old boys resist wearing collared or button-up shirts let alone a full-on tuxedo for 3 hours of picture taking and ceremony.)

For being a great sport, I told him that I’d buy him a toy he’s wanted (LEGO Star Wars Republic Attack Shuttle) when we returned to Denver following the wedding.

The first full day we were home, I spent 50 minutes on the phone calling area Target and Wal-Mart stores looking for this particular model. It was painful.

Every call was answered by an automated-attendant. No surprise here. The easiest way to get rid of customers so that you can focus on important work like scheduling, counting banks, stocking shelves, managing inventory, etc., is to send them into an abyss of options hoping that one of these options will appease them or at least prevent them from speaking to an actual person—which is expensive and time-consuming.

The option to speak with a representative was always the last option made available to me. And sometimes there is an audible delay before the automated-attendant finally releases the coveted option. It’s as if the last thing these companies want the customer to do is to actually speak with a company representative who can answer their questions or otherwise address their needs.

Unless the people answering your phones are ill-equipped to do so due to an inadequate selection process, insufficient training, non-existent or unenforced standards, inattentive supervision, and other factors, why wouldn’t you want them speaking to customers? It’s the perfect opportunity to sway comparison shoppers and attract first-time buyers. (Here’s why: Most employees are ill-equipped to answer the phone for the reasons mentioned.)

After navigating the automated-attendant and eventually reaching an employee, most were indifferent towards me over the phone. Indifference is communicated in many different ways. The most obvious way is speaking without any energy or enthusiasm in your voice. It sounds flat and uninterested. Have you ever reached an employee over the phone who matched this description, recognized it, ended the call, and then called back—hoping to get a different employee on the line?  If so, then you know what I’m talking about.

Employees were inattentive when placing calls on-hold. Hold times exceeded two minutes on average before employees rejoined the call with a status update. In two cases, I simply hung up after being ignored for more than three minutes while on-hold. Customer calls should never be placed on-hold for more than 30 seconds without the consent of the caller. A caller’s expectations should be managed. For instance, if you know that it’s going to take 2 minutes or more to find the information the caller needs, let him know that up front. Give him the option to hold or request a number to call with the information as soon as it’s located.

Employees were careless when transferring calls. Two calls were dropped entirely, requiring me to call back and navigate the automated-attendant labyrinth all over again. On one occasion, I was transferred to “Boys” instead of “Toys.” On another, I was transferred to “Fitting rooms.” When I again asked to be transferred to “Toys,” the “Fitting Rooms” employee said, “I can but it usually doesn’t work.” This type of response doesn’t inspire confidence or sales.

Finally, after calling about a dozen stores, I located an engaged Wal-Mart employee who was genuinely interested in helping me. She conveyed this interest through the authentic enthusiasm in her voice and, after personally locating the last LEGO Star Wars Republic Attack Shuttle on the shelf, by offering to then deliver the toy to the Customer Service desk at the front of the store to simplify my buying experience when I arrived.

This Wal-Mart employee also illustrates the truth that, regardless of a company’s customer service culture, a customer’s satisfaction is heavily influenced by his one-on-one interactions with frontline service providers.

If your business has a phone, it has a phone bill. Never forget who pays that bill. It’s the people who are calling your business for everything from directions and store hours to product availability and host of other questions that cannot be answered by an automated-attendant.

Recognize this and treat your company’s telephone interactions accordingly. Ensure that standards are in place governing the attributes and selection of employees who will be answering telephones. Communicate guidelines for effective greetings, placing calls on-hold, and transferring calls. And support these guidelines through consistent employee observation and feedback.

Your company has spent a lot of money to try and get noticed in a crowded marketplace. If a customer takes the time to look up your number and initiate a call, don’t take the caller (along with her personal spending, referrals, and loyalty) for granted.

Appreciate each and every caller and seize the opportunity to answer the call of service!

Questions? Comments? Leave them here or call me: 303.325.1375

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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