Fighting the machines: Why good customer service requires real human voices

Not too long ago, I made a phone call to our then-provider of Internet, TV, and telephone service. I don’t like making these calls because I’m not patient when it comes to the series of steps you need to go through before talking to a live human being. 

When I was finally granted that privilege and heard the familiar “this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes,” I felt relief, followed by frustration when for the third time I had to identify myself with my personal information.

What has happened to old-fashioned customer service? Nowadays, it seems that if it isn’t on a script, it isn’t part of a two-way dialogue between a customer and a customer service agent.

Good communication should always be part of good customer relationships, and I’m old-fashioned enough to think it should begin with the way we answer our business phones. We have a sophisticated phone system; it does pretty much everything except make the morning coffee. The other day, during lunch hour, I was “first on phones” and I surprised a caller, who was sure he had connected to a recording because I answer the phone with, “Thank you for calling Total Awards & Promotions, this is Donna.” When he realized I was a real person, he commented on how grateful he felt that he didn’t have to deal with “voice mail [expletive].”

Most of us whose daily work lives are filled to capacity don’t take nicely to being “on hold,” “screened for importance,” or “lost in the system.” Why do some people think that their customers would feel differently?

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Since this is the first opportunity a company has to make a good first impression, doesn’t it make sense to make it a good experience for callers? And yet more and more companies and associations are using their auto-attendants and voice mail as time savers. But is this a client saver? Personally, I prefer to speak to a real person. I wonder if I’m the only one still living in the Dark Ages.

Instead of allowing a machine to take messages, listening firsthand to what our customers are saying can help prevent and/or solve problems. It helps to avoid misunderstandings and can improve client/company relationships. It can provide information for making decisions, like who to transfer a customer to for better action. It says we care.

Treating our customers as though they are human beings lets them know their business is appreciated. What a powerful communication tool!

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