To hold or not to hold on?

March 4, 2021 § Leave a comment

We live in times when it’s rare to phone a company and speak to a person – and if you finally get through to someone it’s because you’ve been prepared to hold for ages and ages.

So when we make a call and it seems hopeful that if we hold on we might, eventually, speak to a human we’re then faced with the dilemma: are there enough hours in our life to do that?

I called my bank yesterday about a new debit card they’d sent out. Got through straight away – to a message which told me that their teams were very busy helping customers with the most urgent queries or in ‘vulnerable situations’ and telling me I should only continue to hold if my query was urgent. I thought it was urgent but I wasn’t in a vulnerable situation so went for the option of leaving my number so they could call me back. To be fair, they did and within an hour at that so, all in all, not a bad experience.

A bit later I had to call my doctor’s surgery whose operators were also very busy. The answer message told me, over and over (in the most boring of voices), that the surgery was operating a full triage service and it might be quicker for me if I completed an online form. I didn’t want to see a doctor, didn’t need their triage service, so had to hang on until a ratty receptionist answered and gave me a minute of her precious time. Ok, they may have to put up with timewasters but I don’t think I was one of them.

Thames Water was also busy this morning (busier than normal, according to the message) and I had to press button one, then button two, then button one again, with a message all the while telling me that I would probably find the answer to my query on their website (which I had visited before having to call because I couldn’t find the answer.) Finally I was put on hold to actually speak to someone but soon hung up because the wait was being made worse by devil hold music!

In the past when people have moaned to me about their telephone experiences, one of the top criticisms has been the message which tells you where you are in the queue. I don’t mind that because I enjoy the progress of moving from number 10 to number eight and so on. (Agreed, getting from number two to number one always seems to be the longest wait.)

I’m very definite on where I am in the hold music debate: I can’t stand it and appreciate the holding systems which allow you to choose whether you want the music or not: silence for me every time.

Then, of course, there are companies which outsource their call centres to other countries. I don’t like this calling experience even though it means I’m speaking to a real person. I know this is a huge generalisation but often either I don’t understand all that they’re saying or they don’t understand exactly what I’m saying. It takes the shine off the ‘personal touch’ experience.

Is it that companies don’t value the telephone call anymore so they feel they can cut costs, slash their call handling team and continually direct customers and potential customers to their website.

It’s come to something when even cold calls take the form of automated messages – I get quite a few of those.

A personal touch in no-touch times!

April 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

Talk and write – you’ve got plenty of time

In difficult coronavirus times the personal ‘touch’ is more important then ever, although ‘touch’ is almost certainly not the right word. ‘Thought’ is probably better.

Technology is doing a fantastic job of keeping us in contact with family and friends – although not all of us. My elderly uncle is 85 (plonk in the at-risk group) and doesn’t own a computer, smartphone or tablet. He hasn’t a clue what wifi means. My aunt, his late wife, died five years ago and he hasn’t got used to living on his own, let alone given any thought to exploring technological opportunities.

Auntie Elsie was the glue in their marriage and used to invite us all round for the most fantastic roast or high-tea a couple of times a month. Uncle Ben slipped into the shadows after she died and we had to remember to call him – he never thought of phoning us.

The other day my brother and I were talking about buying him a tablet and getting wifi installed so that we could at least FaceTime him. But then we realised he’d need to be shown how it all works – there’s a lot to go through when you’re an absolute beginner – and we can’t visit and explain.

So – we’re continuing with phone calls and he’s happy with that. He likes to hear a friendly voice and, as it happens, we’re making more effort than we used to and are calling more often anyway.

But the whole Uncle Ben issue made me think about how we communicate these days.

Friends can whizz you a message by text, email, Facebook, Instagram and so on…in minutes. They don’t need to send birthday cards, postcards – or even Christmas cards to some extent- because a note on Facebook will do it for them.

I have no choice but to send Uncle Ben a proper birthday card because of the lack of wifi and it’s fun choosing a card that in some way touches on his life or personality.

Then there are letters. It used to be exciting to get a letter – sometimes challenging depending on the handwriting – but exciting all the same. The only letters I receive these days are from companies trying to sell me something and they’re typed, so in every way don’t count. Generally our first thought these days when we want to send a letter is to email it.

For as long as the post manages to keep going in these unsettled, unreal days I’ve decided to revert to letters and phone calls. (Ok – and blog! And Tweet sometimes…and text occasionally – but I am going to build letter-writing back into my life.)

Although I’ve grown up surrounded by electronic communication, I totally believe that the personal thought has to have a positive impact on these negative times.

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