Tag Archives: From the Publisher

Embrace the Call Center as a Business Strategy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineThe call center has had its share of detractors over the years, from businesses that dismissed it as an unnecessary cost to consumers quick to voice their frustrations and politicians who want to fix it. (Actually most of the politicians just want to garner support from frustrated voters.)

One big salvo against the call center came during the dot.com bubble, which advocated online self-support in lieu of call center customer service. It was good in concept: a scalable solution with minimal labor expenses. The only problem was that self-support didn’t work all that well. With too many wrong answers and not enough good ones, self-support meant no support for most people.

The belief that end users didn’t need customer service support mostly died when the dot.com bubble burst. Call centers were needed, and businesses restored them. But because they focused only on the bottom line and viewed the call center as a cost center, many businesses offshored their call centers to the lowest cost provider. The results were disastrous. It’s not that offshore call centers are bad, but when the focus is on cost containment over quality service, callers are bound to complain. And complain they did: to the businesses, to each other on social media, and to their elected officials.

Many offshore call centers returned onshore, and most of the rest focused on improved quality over lower costs. Everyone won – well, almost everyone. Younger generations, reared on the self-service mind-set and then conditioned to experience low-quality phone support, wrote off the call center and never returned. Picking up the phone became their last inclination; we trained them to think this way.

Yet I see many reasons for call center optimism.

My hosting company has provided US-based phone support for as long as I’ve used them. For a time, they seemed to want users to contact them via email or text chat, but now they emphasize phone support and actually encourage users to call with questions. Their on-hold message even proclaims that they love talking to customers. They understand the value of having real people verbally communicate with their customers.

Another area is my business accounting software. It works well, but I have a low success rate when it comes to upgrades. The first time an upgrade didn’t work and broke the software, I had to search hard for a support number. When I called I was dismayed to learn that, even though their upgrade caused the problem, they intended to charge me to fix it. They demanded that I buy an annual support agreement that cost almost four times what I paid for the software. I declined their offer, and after a few hours of searching online, I learned the solution from another user. Over the years, however, they’ve gotten better. When my last upgrade went south, I found their support number easily, they answered quickly, fixed the problem (that they caused), and didn’t charge me a thing. It seems that they finally understand the importance of serving customers through their call center.

A related issue is my merchant account provider. In the early days, once they completed the initial setup, I was on my own to figure things out and resolve problems. If a card didn’t go through, too bad. Their online solution said to try later, verify the card information, or use a different card. Though it takes a couple of clicks to get there, their online help now gives a phone number to call. To my delight the agent I talked with was most helpful.

My credit union also dabbled in the self-service concept. Several years ago they began opening new branches with minimal staff and a row of ATMs. If you wanted to open an account, a person was available to help you. For everything else you had to use the ATM. Members were not impressed. The credit union reversed this failed strategy and began opening full-service branches. Plus they support members with one of the best call center operations I’ve ever experienced. They are growing fast and consistently receive high satisfaction scores from their members.

All these businesses comprehend the importance of having people serve people. It’s a sound strategy.

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.

Let’s Be Honest About Omnichannel

A literal implementation of omnichannel makes no sense and would not be cost-effective

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineWhen a new technology emerges it sometimes takes a while for the industry to converge on a singular label to describe it. Such is the case with the vision to fully integrate multiple communication channels in order to provide users with a seamless customer service or shopping experience.

Looking at this description, two key words stand out: multiple and channel. Hence the logical label is multichannel. But some proponents of the technology objected – for reasons I don’t remember and barely bothered to understand. They advanced a seemingly superior, all-inclusive descriptor of omnichannel. Rhetoric and vitriol ensued.

Frankly I don’t care. Connections Magazine has used both terms interchangeably in these pages and online. (Don’t shoot me; it’s just semantics. Really.) Whichever label an author uses is the one we use in that article, and we will continue to do so. Multichannel versus omnichannel seems much ado about much too little.

The key of the technology is channel integration for the benefit of customers. This is a great effort and will be an even greater outcome once the industry fully realizes it. We can call it “get-right-answers-fast” or “custro-technobabble” for all I care. The name is not the point. The results are. Be it omnichannel or multichannel, the modern contact center sits in the middle and the customer wins.

However, in the battle of words, omnichannel seems to be winning. So be it.

But call center technology aside, I’m also a wordsmith. Let’s break down the omnichannel label before we wholeheartedly embrace the word and all its implications.

The first part of the word, omni, is a Latin prefix that means “all” or “every.” So when we say omnichannel, we literally mean all channels or every channel. This may appear as an ideal understanding, but it’s not practical – not at all.

Omnichannel certainly encompasses the main communication channels of today: voice, email, and text. So far, so good. It also makes room for emerging channels, such as social media and video, as well as future channels not yet imagined. I applaud this holistic inclusion of popular options and promising technologies, but there are limits. Is anyone open for a mental telepathy channel?

If we say all channels and really mean it, we must actually embrace them all. This includes fax, telex, teletype, and telegraph, too. What about CB, ham, and shortwave radio? These are all channels, all part of the omnichannel paradigm, albeit with varying degrees of obsolescence and practicality. While some contact centers may still provide a fax channel and will process an occasional snail mail missive, I don’t imagine any are pursuing telegraph or CB channels, no matter how big the directive for true omnichannel integration.

So the next time someone gets in your face about the need for pursuing a true omnichannel initiative, simply ask, “So, what you think about smoke signals?”

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 MagazineJuly/August 2016]


How to Combat Survey Fatigue

Too many poorly implemented surveys have conditioned people to disregard them.

By Peter Lyle  DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineOrganizations of all types know the importance of receiving feedback from their stakeholders, be it their customers, clients, stockholders, prospects, users, participants, donors, volunteers, or advocates. A stakeholder who feels heard is one who feels valued. This results in an increased affiliation with the organization and a growing connection to its mission.

One-on-one meetings are the most effective way to accomplish this, rather than in person, on the phone, or via email. Next on the effectiveness scale are group interactions, which similarly lend themselves to physical meetings, conference calls, and group messaging. These all take time and have varying degrees of expense associated with them. But they are ineffective at obtaining feedback on a large scale.

Perhaps that’s why online and automated phone surveys have taken off. Both are inexpensive ways to obtain valuable feedback and cement a stronger connection between the organization and the stakeholder. In addition to not costing much, surveys are also time-conscious.

Their ease of implementation and low cost, however, have led to overuse and misuse. Too many are poorly designed. Too often they irritate stakeholders instead of ingratiating them.

Here are some reasons why surveys fail:

Too Often: I deal with some companies that ask me to take a survey at the end of every call. Sometimes I sigh and take the survey. Other times I sigh and don’t. The data they collect is actionable, more or less, but it is also trivial.

Too Long: Some surveys go on and on, presenting an array of questions, often asking the same thing but in different ways and various formats. These are clearly designed by people with a data focus but who lack a people focus. They gather my feedback and earn my ire in the process.

Too Short: Do one-question surveys really accomplish anything?

Too Soon: Often I’m asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the call before I know the answer. Many times, when the call ends I think the problem is resolved, but time proves otherwise. Then I need to call back, even though on the survey I said the reason for my initial call was accomplished.

Too Limited: Sometimes I want to provide detailed information, either because I’m mad or because I have input I feel is valuable. Yet the survey has no provision for me to provide it, just options to click and no place to write.

Too Frustrating: The opposite of surveys with no provision to give details are surveys that force it. For example, “Did the agent address your concern?” is followed up with the inane “How?” which requires a response in the form of an essay question. If I have nothing to say in a particular manner, don’t compel me to make something up.

As a result of all of these problems, people too often respond to surveys by not responding. And that may be the most telling response of all. They have survey fatigue.

To recapture the full benefits of stakeholder surveys, organizations need to overhaul their use and their form. They should design surveys that provide both actionable and important data. These new surveys need to engage stakeholders and show true appreciation, not merely spew trite platitudes. And they need to provide value to both parties.

To develop improved surveys, organizations require input from the stakeholders who will take them – just don’t send them a survey to gain that input.

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 MagazineMay/June 2016]

Healthcare Is Hot – Is Your Contact Center Ready?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineFor the past five years, Connections Magazine has taken one issue each year to focus on healthcare, be it telehealth, telephone triage, or healthcare contact centers. For the last couple of years, this has occurred in our March issue.

Our sister publication, AnswerStat, focuses on the healthcare contact center industry. At AnswerStat we just updated our tagline to read “The information hub for healthcare contact center news and resources” to better explain what we cover.

Our work with AnswerStat gives us an up-close view of what’s happening throughout the year in the world of telehealth, allowing us to share the best of the best for Connections Magazine’s annual focus on healthcare contact centers. With AnswerStat starting its fourteenth year, that’s a lot of coverage.

Always an interesting area, healthcare contact centers and telehealth took on a heightened level of importance with the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as ObamaCare). Even before the bill passed, speculation abounded on the ramifications for healthcare contact centers and the telehealth industry. Opportunities seemed everywhere, from doing more of what we were already doing to delving into exciting new areas of service.

Some of the newer possibilities included helping to contain costs, enhance patient care, reduce hospital readmission rates, improve operational efficiencies, and oversee disease management. Under the more-of-the-same category, we saw telephone triage, appointment setting and reminders, physician referrals, and medical answering service all grow in importance.

On the front of leading-edge technologies, I recently wrote a column in AnswerStat titled “The Internet of Things Intersects Healthcare.” At its basic level the Internet of Things (IoT) puts an RFID (radio frequency identification) tag in things in order to monitor where they are or what they are doing.

For healthcare the IoT as many applications. While monitoring patients’ vital signs is common in the hospital environment, the concept can now extend to home-based convalescence or hospice. Locating dementia patients who have wandered off is feasible with the IoT. Even remotely administering medications is a possibility. Telehealth taps into the IoT and can greatly expand because of it. The list of potential healthcare IoT applications is limited only by our ability to imagine grand solutions.

While the idea behind IoT is automation, at some point people must be able to evaluate the collected data. As such, the modern healthcare contact center stands at the intersection of healthcare and the IoT. That means more opportunities – and the IoT is just one such evolving technology.

Given all this it’s not surprising that our healthcare contact center coverage this year is the biggest yet, with our vendor directory and articles on telehealth, finding the right consultant, and telephone triage.

Of course this issue isn’t all about telehealth. We have our regular columns as well as some general articles.

We hope you enjoy this special issue of Connections Magazine.

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 MagazineMarch/April 2016]

The Cost of Poor Training

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineMy wife ordered a coat online from a well-known regional chain for a Christmas present. She has a history of positive shopping experiences at the chain’s physical stores and assumed their virtual store would be no different.

The coat went on sale the week before Black Friday, and when combined with a 30 percent off coupon the price was slashed in half. This made a too-expensive coat suddenly affordable. With free shipping, my wife clicked “submit” and smiled, satisfied over the really great deal she got.

Her satisfaction didn’t last long. Two days later the coat went on sale again, this time discounted even more. With the new sales price and another 15 percent discount, the coat now cost one-third of the original price.

She checked the store’s policy about making adjustments for sales prices. Their website stated that they would issue a credit if a sale occurred within two weeks of the original purchase. Unfortunately she couldn’t do this online. When she placed her original order, she couldn’t log into her account – one she had set up to receive all the discount coupons – so she completed her order as a “guest.” This wasn’t an issue until she tried to log in to get the adjustment.

So she picked up the phone.

The first rep couldn’t make the adjustment, but she could fix the log-in problem. Twenty-five minutes later that issue was resolved, and my wife found herself transferred to someone to issue the promised credit.

This guy cheerfully agreed to make the adjustment for the sale price but couldn’t include the coupon. My wife pushed, but he didn’t budge.

She tried a new approach. “But if I placed the order today, I’d get the sale price and be able to use the coupon.”

“Yes, that’s right,” the rep said. “I can place the order for you if you’d like.” It seemed like a good solution to him. “Then just return one of the coats.”

“That’s a lot of extra work and expense,” my wife countered. “Can’t you just make the adjustment in the computer?”

He gave a long explanation that she didn’t fully understand.

“So what you’re telling me is that your hands are tied.”

He didn’t like her summation, but that’s about what it amounted to. In the end he placed the order for her, again with free shipping. He charged her card for the second coat and told her to return the first one for a full refund. Of course she’d have to pay shipping or go through the hassle of returning it to the store. This part of the call took an additional twenty minutes.

The next day the first coat arrived. The color wasn’t even close to what she expected. “Maybe you’ll like the second coat better,” I said. I had no idea how wrong I would be.

A few days later the second shipment arrived. The box seemed too small. With apprehension, she opened it. Inside was a pair of boots. The order and paperwork was correct, but the packer picked the wrong item. Most likely someone else opened a box expecting a pair of size 13 black men’s work boots only to find a bright purple woman’s coat.

My valiant wife made another call to the customer service department. Though it took her a long time to explain the details of the two sales, the two coupons, the two orders, and the two packages – one of which was wrong – once the rep comprehended the situation, she knew just what to do. She said the first rep (or the second one) should have been able to make the full adjustment without placing a second order.

Then, after only a minute or so of typing, she announced she had corrected everything. All my wife needed to do was to return the boots to the store, and she would receive credit for the first coat.

And everything worked out as promised.

To summarize, my wife wasted an hour of her time; three call center reps combined invested an hour of their time. The store paid for free shipping twice, and my wife had to return the wrong item to the store. And this doesn’t even address the grief the other shopper went through to send back a woman’s coat when he or she ordered men’s boots.

If only the first rep had received the necessary training to issue the credit the store’s website promised!

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 – January/February 2016]


How Would You Like us to Contact You?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineAfter our basement flooded and the insurance company said, “Sorry, you’re not covered,” I knew it was time to find a new insurer. As I scanned a website for an insurance agent’s phone number, I spotted an information request form. I filled it out, including the customer-centric option: “How should we contact you?”

The five choices were phone, email, text, fax, and mail. While the last three seemed highly unsuitable – text would become cumbersome and fax or mail would take too long – I vacillated between a phone call and an email. I selected email, largely because it would provide a documentation trail of our communication.

I clicked submit.

Soon my phone rang. It was an agent from my prospective insurance company. Normally a phone call would have been fine, even preferable. But why did they ask what I wanted if they weren’t going to do as I requested? We weren’t off to a good start.

I reminded the agent that I preferred email communication, and we switched to email for our subsequent interactions. To the company’s credit, the agent stuck with that channel. As we moved towards finalizing the policy, I had a series of questions more suited to the efficiency of a phone call. This caught the agent off guard, but she answered my questions and confirmed my understanding. I now have insurance through a new company.

This reminds me of the time I looked for a new auto mechanic. The one I picked allowed people to request an appointment online. I filled out the form. They, too, asked how I wanted to be contacted. I selected “text” since I assumed this was the ideal channel for a succinct confirmation message.

They emailed me.

The date I requested was full, and so was my second choice. Obviously their appointment module was a static form and not integrated with their actual schedule. I emailed them back with a third date, and I received a follow up email with a question. We went back and forth with email messages, taking most of the day to set an appointment. A phone call would have been so much more efficient.

Since then I’ve realized that email is their default mode. Though I’ve requested texts to confirm appointments, they’ve never once done so; it’s always email. And when I ask them to call me when my car is ready, they usually don’t bother to communicate at all. The only time they did call me was when they under-billed me. Apparently they thought a phone call was the best way to resolve that.

Considering this, a few thoughts come to mind:

Offering Options Is Good: Letting customers and prospects pick how they prefer to be contacted is a customer-friendly move and a great idea, especially given that customers usually have options of who to do business with and are quick to exercise those options.

Not Honoring Those Options Is Bad: Not using the channel a customer requests is worse than not offering the option in the first place. If you can’t (or won’t) contact customers by the method they request, don’t bother to ask.

Not Responding at All Is Worse: Making no effort to contact customers when they request it is the worst possible mistake. How hard would it be for my mechanic to let me know when my car is ready? He can call, email, or text. Instead I’m left to guess when I can pick up my car.

Know When to Switch Channels: Sometimes a preferred channel bogs down communication. When emails or texts go back and forth without resolution, it’s time to pick up the phone, but before doing so, make that suggestion through the customer’s channel of choice.

Asking how customers want you to contact them is great if you follow through, but if you don’t do as they request, you’re better off not providing this as an option. Conversely know when it’s appropriate to switch channels. Providing excellent customer service relies on excellent communication, whether it’s within the requested channel or outside of it.

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 – November/December 2015]


Are You Ready for Customer Service Week?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI recently received an email from my friend Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor. For several years Nancy had a regular column in Connections Magazine. I count twenty-eight articles in all, which are still online on ConnectionsMagazine.com for your perusal. For the most part, they are just as relevant now as they were a decade ago. She shared some great advice with us. Go check them out. Just type “By Nancy Friedman” in the search box.

In her email Nancy reminded me that Customer Service Week is coming up, October 5 through 9. I’d like to say this was a personal message from her to me, but it wasn’t. It was a mass mailing. You may have received her email, too. The important thing is that we celebrate Customer Service Week.

To have a successful call center, we need the right equipment, a robust infrastructure, great supervisors, and excellent management. But none of that matters without the right staff. Our agents are our key to success. Without them nothing else counts, and a really great team can even help overcome deficiencies in other areas of our operation, be it technology or leadership.

Yet in the day-to-day grind of running a call center, when we look at the schedule and the payroll, it’s all too easy to see agents as an expense. We can forget they are the backbone of our operation. Without their customer service skills, nothing else matters. Though we should celebrate them daily, at least we can take one week a year to make it all about them.

Consider all they do. First, they interact with customers who are too often at their worst when they call, text, or email. Agents endure a lot of abuse, usually without faltering. Of course we seldom hear about all they do right. It’s only the occasional slipup that gets attention.

Next, consider their schedule. Most people want to work nine to five, Monday through Friday. Call center staff seldom enjoy that luxury. We schedule them at odd times throughout the morning, afternoon, or evening. And there’s weekend work, third shift, and, of course, holidays. There are also short-shifts, split-shifts, unplanned overtime, and an occasional unavoidable double shift. While we try to avoid these inconveniences, sometimes we can’t. We ask much from our loyal staff.

Of course we give them lunch and supper breaks, but these must be staggered because the customers’ needs come first. As a result, few agents can eat lunch at noon or dinner at six. At some centers they never get to eat when the rest of us do because that is often the precise time we need everyone working.

Sometimes we fail to develop the ideal schedule. If we overstaff they’re bored, and their shift drags. When we understaff, they work nonstop with frenzied vigor. They leave work exhausted. If this happens too often, we risk burning them out.

For all this, we pay them as much as we can, and we wish it was more, but we also must balance their compensation with the need to remain viable as a business. We try to do extra things for them when possible, such as provide birthday treats, holiday celebrations, themed events, rewards and special recognition, parties, and food – lots of food. Though we may do these on an ongoing basis, we could likely do more for our staff, the agents who keep everything flowing and our businesses humming.

Let’s make an extra effort this Customer Service Week. Let’s thank our agents and celebrate them. Let’s show our appreciation by words and through actions. We may not say “thank you” often enough, but at least we can attempt to make up for it one week. Nancy Friedman suggests we consider making the week “negative free,” with “no negative words, thoughts, or deeds to anyone.” I like that.

Let’s celebrate our staff during Customer Service Week – and all year long.

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 Sep/Oct 2015]


Is Being Effective Good Enough?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineIt doesn’t matter if a call is answered in a modern contact center or by one person in a small, single-phone office. In both cases customers evaluate them the same way and expect the same outcomes; each call is compared with every other call and judged accordingly, regardless of who took the call or the technology behind it.

Consider three recent experiences I had in calling businesses without a call center.

1) A Husband-and-Wife Team: I needed to have a home inspection. A friend recommended a husband-and-wife team. He handled all the inspection; she handled all the office work. When I called, the quality of our interaction left me in awe. Not only was she professional, personal, and efficient, but she also excelled at high-level traits we value in the call center industry, such as tone, pacing, and pitch. It was as close to a perfect call as I’ve ever experienced.

When I had to call back to reschedule, she had a positive, no-problem attitude. Though I was inconveniencing them, there was no hint of that in her voice. Again the results were impressive. Even more amazing is that she handled this call while in the car on her way to pick up one of her kids. I would have not known had she not apologized.

2) The Small Office: Next I called a local service company. I easily accomplished my objective of scheduling an appointment. Though the person wasn’t skilled at customer service, I was pleased with her quick response.

Later I called back with a time-critical question. It was after hours, and she chastised me for calling in the evening. However, she did answer my question. Again I was happy to have an answer.

The next day I had a follow-up question. This time my query was met with unrestrained impatience. She promised me a return call later that day and then changed it to “within twenty-four hours.” The callback never came, but someone did show up two days later. In the end, my frustration with her was offset by the professional work of her staff.

3) A Family Business: My third call was in response to a postcard sent by a landscaping company. The wife answered the phone. She was friendly, although too casual for my taste. Still we established a rapport despite her lack of professionalism. Her overly familiar demeanor coupled with the absence of a hold button caused me to shake my head. In addition I don’t believe they even had an answering machine, because she always answered the phone regardless of how many times it rang; the record was nine. Often self-deprecating, she was nonetheless helpful on each call. In my many calls, her call handling never changed. I give her high marks for consistency.

Her husband, who handled the landscaping with their kids, was much the same in his conduct, overly friendly to the point of over sharing. Still, the finished product was well done and at a reasonable price.

Being Effective Is Essential: In each case I deem my interactions as effective because I accomplished my desired purpose. Being effective means the caller’s reason for calling is addressed, and the customer is pleased. A rating of “effective” sets the minimal expectations for a call center. Effective is our baseline.

Not Effective: Calls that are not effective are failures: The callers’ objectives weren’t accomplished, and they weren’t satisfied with the results. Too many organizations run call centers that are not effective. Wrong information is given; billing errors are not corrected; callbacks don’t happen; and repeated calls occur, with no movement toward resolution.

Surpassing Effective: Other call centers offer the other extreme, being effective and then offering more: professional, accurate, consistent, and empathetic, with first call resolution.

Whether you have one phone or hundreds of agents, first ensure you are effective in handling calls. Then take things to a higher level by being more than effective; become everything your callers hope for when they contact you.

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 – July/August 2015]



Your Service Is Only as Good as Your Weakest Link

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineThe last few days have been challenging at the DeHaan household. Too much rain in too short of a time produced localized flooding. Coupled with some unusual factors with our house and lot, the result was water gushing into our basement. It took four pumps, several hours of bailing, and the help of family and neighbors to stem the flow and remove the water faster than it entered.

Though things could have been much worse, every room in our lower level sustained water damage. As soon as the crisis was under control and I had gratefully thanked all our rescuers, I turned my attention to the cleanup. I called the local office of a national firm that specializes in such things.

We got off to a good start. They answered their phone quickly and readily comprehended my situation. Though the person I talked to could have treated my disaster with a hint of empathy rather than as a routine scheduling matter, she did accomplish my main objective: confirmation that they knew just what to do to clean up the water. I decided to wait until morning when their rates were lower and I could verify that the problem was completely resolved. After all, there was no sense cleaning up twice.

A few hours later I wondered if I should be doing something to prepare for them in the morning. I called back, assuming I’d reach an after-hours answering service or call center. I did not. I think I reached the same person I talked to earlier. She was not pleased. “This is the emergency line”

“We’re already scheduled for a team to come out at nine tomorrow, and I have a question,” I explained.

“I don’t have your records with me; they’re at the office.”

I wondered why she bothered answering the phone if she wasn’t prepared to help. I pressed forward. “Is there anything I should do before they arrive?”

This seemed like a legitimate question; she apparently felt otherwise. Though we failed to communicate, I did learn they would move furniture as needed. And I gathered that it would be wise for us to move smaller items beforehand. By 11:00 p.m. my wife and I had our living room piled high with items from the basement. We fell into bed exhausted.

The team leader showed up at 8:35 the next morning, thoroughly explaining their procedure. The rest of the team arrived just before nine and went to work. When they finished by 2:00 p.m., we learned the extent of the damage (and that insurance wouldn’t cover a thing).

Before he left, the team leader reiterated that normally someone would come out each day to assess the drying process and make sure there weren’t any issues. However, since they were busy because of the rains, it might not happen every day.

Though I routinely monitored the two industrial dehumidifiers and twenty cyclone-strength fans strategically arranged in my basement, no one from their company did. I waited three days and finally called them.

“Your rep told me someone would check on the fans every day, but it’s been three days and no one…”

“We’re really busy,” the woman I spoke with interjected. “Someone will be out. It might not be today, but they will be out.”

“I have some concerns; it’s getting hot and…”

“It’s supposed to get hot; that’s how it’s designed to work.”

I didn’t ask the rest of my questions; it seemed pointless.

“I’ll make a note you have ‘concerns,’” she said with a hint of sarcasm, “but don’t expect anyone until tomorrow.”

My wife was incensed. “Call them back; demand an answer.”

“I don’t want to make them mad. They might charge us more.”

“Call back during lunch,” she suggested. “Maybe you’ll get someone else.”

I shook my head. “I think they’ve forgotten who the customer is.”

Though the team who cleaned our basement was thorough and professional, with an excellent team leader, their phone staff is their weak link, with their sub-par performance forming my overall impression of their service.

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 May/June 2015]


How Long Should a Call Take?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineMy wife and I recently moved. There were the typical myriad of details to attend to, including arranging for utilities. I had three calls to make: one for natural gas, one for electricity, and one for water.

I called the electric company first, as I assumed this would be the easiest. They had provided us with natural gas at our prior home for a quarter of a century, so we had an existing relationship with them and an excellent payment history. Pulling up our account and tying it to our new location would be easy – or so I reasoned.

After navigating a slew of options on the automated attendant, I was finally routed to a person to begin my quest. One of his first questions seemed most promising: “Have you ever done business with us in the past?”

I was ready. “Yes!” I gave them the address, the dates, and our old account number.

He typed on his computer, mumbled a lot, and finally asked me to repeat the information. The fact that our old service was for natural gas confused him. “We don’t provide natural gas at your new house,” he said.

“I know that, but you do provide electrical service. That’s why I’m calling.”

I’m not sure if he gave up looking for my records or actually found them, but he eventually launched into a string of questions as if he was setting up a new account. I watched the clock as the call dragged on: five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, and climbing. He also put me on hold a few times. As the call reached the twenty-minute mark, he announced he was done.

Whew! I needed to psych myself up before making the next call, one I was sure would be much more involved. Summoning my resolve, I bravely called the natural gas company, one I’d never done business with.

For the gas company, the call started out much the same. There was an IVR tree, and one of the first questions the rep asked was, “Have you used us in the past?”

I braced myself. “No, we haven’t.” I expected to hear a sigh. I did not. She asked my name, address, and social security number. Before I knew what was happening, my account was set up. It only took a couple of minutes.

I then called the township who handles the water. A person answered the phone and transferred me to the “water department.” The person there was out, so I left a voicemail message with my name, address, phone number, and reason for my call. When I didn’t hear back by the next day, I called again. This time he was in. “Oh, I set it up yesterday when I got your message; you’re all set.”

Setting aside the township, my experience with the electric and gas companies are in contrast. Why was it so easy to initiate service with my natural gas provider and so time-consuming with my electricity provider?

Both are large concerns. I’m sure they track the efficiency of their call center reps, including average call length. Though one call took about ten times longer than the other, I’m sure the rep wasn’t ten times more efficient. I’ll place the blame on agent training, the technology infrastructure, and operational processes, all which add up to about ten times less efficient.

Though the rep might be criticized for his long call time, the real blame resides with the call center management and its technology.

Make sure your reps aren’t at a similar disadvantage.

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 Mar/Apr 2015]