Is Help Really Just a Phone Call Away?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineMost of today’s younger drivers have never had the experience of pulling into a gas station and having an attendant run out and fill up their car with gas. When it comes to fueling their vehicles, all they know is self-service.

I have a vague recollection of that time. When the concept of self-service was first offered, the naysayers scoffed, saying few drivers would be dissuaded to partake. However, as the price per gallon differential between the full- and self-serve alternatives increased, the skeptics were proven wrong.

Then, some ten years ago, when the Internet boom occurred, the idea of self-service was again presented. The fundamental underlying business model was a scalable system, accessible through cyberspace, that offered customer service via self-service, without any call center support. In most cases that vision did not pan out – and the bubble burst.

Few people wanted self-serve customer service, but when the alternatives were inadequate phone support or no phone support, they reluctantly acquiesced. Even so, the seed of self-serve customer service was planted. And it has continued to grow, albeit slowly, but steadily, sometimes awkwardly, and other times with glimmers of promise. Over time, it has proliferated, and eventually it has become expected.

Sadly, I too have been retrained. When faced with a question about an organization, I invariably go online, seeking instant gratification via the World Wide Web. However, more times than not, I am disappointed. First, the answers are seldom instant. Second, either I can’t find what I seek or what I do find fails to clarify – or even worse, confuses. Only occasionally do my self-serve customer service proclivities produce a quick and satisfying result.

So then, why do I persist in an approach that leaves me frustrated and requires too much time? Quite simply, I have been conditioned to accept it as the lesser of evils. Although phone numbers are often cleverly obscured, when I do find them, I am more likely to be dismayed than delighted. It might be that I am calling outside of regular business hours, or they are experiencing a high volume of calls, or none of the IVR options apply, or the message that my call is important – repeated at fifteen-second intervals – is annoying, or the hold music is distorted, too loud, or just plain grating, or I am disconnected while on hold, or I can’t understand the agent and visa-versa, or the rep can’t help me.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Customer service by phone can work. Calls can be answered quickly, IVR can be helpful, connections can be clear, agents can speak in understandable English, and the right answers can be given. As proof of this assertion, I hold up my Internet hosting company, GoDaddy, who continually and consistently delights me with stellar phone support. Yes, I still sometimes attempt the self-serve method, but calling them is always quicker – and more satisfying – just as phone support should be.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection Magazine December 2011]

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