dealing with divorce in laws“Thank you for calling the law offices of Howard, Fine and Howard.  Your call is important to us.  Please listen carefully as our options have changed. In order to serve you better, this call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes. For divorce, press 1; for torts, press 2; for retorts, press 3….”

Only part of that is made up.  When we moved recently, I was forced to endure many conversations with saccharine-voiced answering robots.  I’ve about had it with talking to these machines, which businesspeople seem to think will actually motivate me to continue to patronize their companies.

I’ve had to call the phone, gas and electric companies; plumbers, electricians, movers, and tree removal and cleaning services; furniture, appliance, lighting and pet stores.  In order to change my address, I contacted insurance providers, physicians, pharmacies, charities we support, magazines and newspapers. Not all of this can be done on-line.

In the time it took to get the needed information, especially if it wasn’t covered by one of the “options,” I could have moved again.  Sometimes I’d press for an option only to be offered more options.  And it’s more than a little creepy to have a mechanical voice say, in its most apologetic inflection, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.  Could you please say that again?”

I wonder if businesses pay a price in customer dissatisfaction.

Right now, for example, I’m reconsidering my long-term relationship with a certain office supply chain.  I placed a simple order for business cards and have yet to receive them, long after I was informed by e-mail that “Your order has shipped.”  I called the store.  After listening to my many options, I was put on hold long enough to get another degree.  (Beware of, “I’ll be with you in a sec.”)  When I finally got through I was informed that I had to call the 888 number for on-line orders, even though it was being delivered to that store.  The 888 robot informed me that their mailbox was full and I should call back.  I found that remarkable and called the store back.  I was told to keep trying the 888 number.  (I would never have thought of that.)  I suggested that maybe it was their job to track down my order – you know, help the customer.  They get paid for it.  I just get aggravated.

PetSmart made me wade through a long list, but at least it was charming: “For store hours and location, press 1; for the grooming salon (!), press 2; for fish, birds, small animal and reptile information, press 3; for pet training press 4; for the pet hotel….”

Based on my experience, I have some suggestions for marketing and customer service types.

1. Come up with new verbiage.  Forget the “importance” of my call.  Enough already with “Blah blah blah quality assurance….”  Try empathy: “We know you hate these machines, but their use really saves us money, and we pass the savings along to you.  If you don’t believe this, go to www.automatedvoicesreallysave$.com.”

2. Play a comedy tape for the customer, AKA the waiting wounded.

3. Play music that doesn’t make one feel compelled to push a button for the fourth floor.

4. Offer a coupon if the customer has to wait more than 10 minutes.

5. Have a while-you-wait menu: “To hear that you’ve lost weight, press 1; to flirt, press 2 and then press 1 to specify preferred gender; to discuss last night’s game, press 3; to talk about the weather, press 4; to commiserate on how much you hate automated answering services, press 5.”

6. And while you’re at it, please train the humans – who (might) finally come on the line — to speak clearly.  I don’t speak Mumble.


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