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.

Are our minds turning to mush?

April 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Back in the day we knew telephone numbers. Lots of them.

I still remember the number of my childhood home – and next door’s where my parents might be if I had to call to say I was going to be late.

Sitting with friends at the weekend, we all admitted that there’d been times of late when we’d had trouble remembering our OWN numbers and that had nothing to do with age but everything to do with the fact that contacts are all plugged into mobile phones. Rarely are we repeating our numbers and when we phone someone these days we just have to remember their name!

So we’re getting flabbier upstairs as far as phoning is concerned.

And now if we don’t know something or remember it, we don’t try to work it out anymore – we Google it, of course. Google can tell you everything. It’s surprising the sort of information we turn to Google for. I took a random (very random, I thought) question and searched ‘Can you fix a burnt sausage?’ It transpires Aunty Google has the answer and we can ditch common sense or trial and error.

Map-reading skills are being overtaken by Sat Nav and as much as we might moan about the woman’s voice that shows us the way or the ridiculous bell tones that warn us of speed cameras, the Sat Nav gives a much easier life than a map ever did. Map-reading is particularly difficult if you’re driving alone although we managed in the past.

Spelling is something we think we can hand over to a spellcheck – it doesn’t work though. If I write  ‘He complemented me on my blog,’  the spellcheck’s going to like that, but it’s wrong. And calculators are taking the place of mental arithmetic.

I don’t remember any ready-meals in my childhood nor sauces coming out of jars or packets but the art of cooking is also disappearing. A huge ‘convenience’ industry has grown up around us and unless we choose not to let it overtake us, our minds won’t be the bouncy, pliable matter they once were – but heaps of mush!

I want to talk to a PERSON!!!!

August 6, 2014 § 2 Comments

a9bc68e5eIf anyone has a query or a problem they can call me and I speak to them. When Bowler Hat gets a billion times bigger I’ll employ tons of receptionists and we’ll all talk to callers. We’ll be the most communicative communications company in the business.

Never – and I mean, never – will I subject my customers to machines or (and this has to be even worse) deny them telephone contact altogether. If that sounds a little antiquated I don’t care because a helpful person at the end of the phone is going to beat an automated menu of options hands-down, however old you are.

For starters…. people UNDERSTAND you and why you’re calling!!! Their pliable brains can hop all over the shop to fathom, filter and fulfil requests or sort out problems. A good old-fashioned conversation can take place so the caller can fully explain the issue at hand.

Not so with the automated voice system which goes into meltdown if the caller digresses from the menu – or, for goodness sake, hesitates for an instant. Have suffered this week trying to contact a huge and hugely well-known financial institution. The ‘voice’ didn’t know what to do with my query which didn’t slot into Options 1-6 and I didn’t know what to do with my frustration by the fifth attempt of rephrasing the question.

I’d just about recovered from that experience when a couple of days later I came up against the ‘Unfortunately we no longer offer a telephone support system’ sort of company. Would have preferred to speak to someone but, hey, I’m a writer – so took a deep breath and wrote a comprehensive email to said ‘we’d-rather-you-didn’t-contact-us’ company.

Minutes later, far too few minutes later – ping! Company replies. They’d read, it seemed, maybe three pars of the 12-paragraph letter I’d written, completely misunderstood it and explained a outrageously wrong decision with an outrageous explanation.

AAARGH!!!

I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t I put the pertinent points in the first three pars. I did, I did, I did. But it was a complicated issue and needed clarification and details.

I’m reliving the maddeningly wrist-wrenching experience as I type…but I think I’m over it now. I haven’t forgotten about it, though, have I. What this week has proved to me is that no matter the scale of the company, machines just don’t ‘do’ customer service. People do.

What worries me is this seemingly growing trend of companies putting the phone down on customers in favour of automation.

PS. At the time of writing am holding on to speak to someone at O2 and the sickly automated woman’s voice keeps telling me there’s loads of info on their website. I KNOOOOW. That’s where I got the number from but I want to talk to a person!!!!!

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