How Not To Handle Customer Service Calls

    October 26, 2006

I awoke this morning to a few inches of snow on the ground. Nothing unusual here in Colorado, but as it so happened the snow must have caused some problems in my internet connection.

My dsl from Qwest wasn’t working. Things happen and I didn’t worry about it right away while I made some coffee. It eventually led me to a what turned out to be a rather useless customer service call.

Like I said, at first I didn’t worry, but an hour later, a cup of coffee, and a few manual restarts of my dsl box without success and I was ready to give Qwest a call to find out what was happening and hopefully correct the problem so I could read whatever email was waiting for me and start my work day. The phone call was a good example of what not to do when handling a customer service call and I though I’d share.

Naturally my call was sent to one of those automated call handlers. Unlike the usual menu of options that would lead me to tech support this system provided no menu. Instead I was greeted by a recorded voice asking me if the number I had called from was my number. The voice was pleasant enough, which I assume was to make me believe the call was more personal. It didn’t. instead of giving me options the voice required me to answer questions so it could decide where to direct my call.

Unfortunately for me, the questions did nothing to direct my call anywhere. The questions weren’t designed for someone who knew where they need to be directed, but more for someone who had no idea who to talk to. The questions really had nothing to do with my issue and I felt as though it would take all day to get anywhere. From the moment the system answered the call it caused frustration for me. Pity the poor person who eventually would have to talk to me.

Even when I answered to one question that I needed tech support I was asked more questions and was told that it sounded like my issue would best be dealt with some other department. After being asked again if I wanted tech support I cursed out the recorded voice and repeatedly pressed 0 on my phone in the hopes of getting an operator.

It took until the now very annoying voice was finished with it’s latest question or suggestion (In all honesty I was no longer listening to that voice any longer) before my call was switched to a line that was spposed to take me to an operator. Of course that simply meant I was placed on hold. After another recording told me how important my call was to Qwest the system hung up on me.

As luck would have it, my dsl connection had started working so there was no need to call back, but this call has become yet another reason for me to switch service providers. Believe me there are many reasons not to use Qwest.

What Made the Service Call Poor And What Should Qwest Have Done

What Qwest did wrong?

  • They provided no options to get to where I knew where I wanted to go.
  • They forced me to respond to questions that offered no help or took me any closer to where I wanted to go.
  • They played an obviously insincere message to me about how important they think I am.
  • They hung up on me before I had ever gotten through to anyone or any useful information.

What could they have done to make my customer service experience better?

  • Since I knew where I wanted to be directed they should have provided me with a menu of options to not require me to have to answer their questions. They should have provided a menu of options regardless of whether or not I knew who I wanted to talk to. The automated question and answer voice could have been an option for anyone who wasn’t sure who they should be speaking to.
  • They could have and should have provided an option immediately for me to speak to a real person instead of the automated system.
  • They could be sincere in their messages. Instead of telling me how important my call is, tell me how long they anticipate the wait will be or how many calls are ahead of mine. Even better, hire more people to answer the calls. Their insincerity was obvious and had the opposite effect than what Qwest would hope. I don’t see them as caring about me at all.
  • They should have completed my call without hanging up on me.

In the end Qwest not only didn’t answer any of my questions or help in any way, they simply hung up on me. Had I needed to call back I would have had to deal with the same annoying and unhelpful questions and answers directing me nowhere. They showed clearly as they usually do that they are not concerned with me or the issues that led me to call them. If you can believe it they’ve directed me in the past to find an answer on their website even when my issue was that I couldn’t connect to the internet.

What Qwest should have done was direct me as fast as possible to the department that could best respond to my needs. While I don’t care for the usual automated phone systems at least the push button response to a menu would have me getting closer to who I wanted to speak to and even provide the illusion that I was indeed doing something other than being kept on hold. And one of the menu items should always be the option to connect to a real live person.

If The Call Was A Website

If that customer service call had been a website, the automated question and answer would be like requiring you to fill out form after form as navigation. It might have been thought up as a helpful well to help me find my way, but we don’t always need to find our way. Sometimes we know where we want to go and sometimes we just want to explore on our own. How many pages of a website would you visit if you needed to fill out a form to get to them?

The insincere message is similar telling someone how much you’ll protect their information and then not provide a secure connection for them when you ask for their credit card. It’s telling your visitors that you value their privacy as you sell their email address to the highest bidder. And the system hanging up is like having your page or site crash when someone requests a page.

You wouldn’t expect a site like that to convert many visitors into customers. A poor customer service call fails to convert a customer into a loyal customer. My dsl will still be provided by Qwest tomorrow, but unless they dramatically improve their service and support I’m not likely to stay with them as my service provider.

What Qwest failed to recognize is that the only way to have quality customer service is to practice quality customer service. It doesn’t matter how much you tell me my call is important if you don’t ever answer it. It obviously wasn’t important to the company.

In all fairness to Qwest there are probably some people who would find such a question and answer system helpful. Still it could easily have been an option at the initial menu instead of the initial menu. I have also been hung up on by other companies. I swear it has nothing to do with me as I really am nice to customer service representatives. I do know systems have problems sometimes, but getting hung up on is never somethig good. It’s also not the first time I’ve heard that message about how important I am. Of course the number of times I’ve heard it helps to make it so insincere. At just about every point in that call my experience could have been better and every part of improving that experience was something Qwest has control over. I’ll give them the hanging up thing. Maybe they just sensed my frustration and figured it was the best option.

Customer service is vital to any business. It’s is much less expensive to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. With just a little concern for my call Qwest could have kept me happy and loyal. A good customer service experience can even keep help turn an irate customer into a loyal one. Loyal customers recommend your business, lowering the cost of customer acquisition. Instead Qwest has let me know when I’m having trouble with their service I can expect no help from them. They have not made me a loyal customer. I am less likely to call and tie up their phone lines, but I am also less likely to remain a customer.



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Steven Bradley is a web designer and search engine optimization
specialist. Known to many in the webmaster/seo community by the username
vangogh, he is the author of TheVanBlog, which focuses on how to build
and optimize websites and market them online.