Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

February 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD....AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU....I suppose this is old news to a lot of people, but this column in the New York Times was the first I'd heard of Paul English, a man who's fighting the good fight for those of us who have spent too many years stuck in call center hell:

Last summer, fed up with too many aggravating run-ins with awful customer service, Mr. English posted a blog entry that reverberated around the world: a "cheat sheet" that explained how to break through automated interactive voice-response systems at a handful of companies and speak to a human being. He named the companies and published their codes for reaching an operator codes that they did not share with the public.

....The Get Human cheat sheet makes for entertaining and mystifying reading. Want to reach an operator at a certain major bank? Just press 0#0#0#0#0#0#. Want to reach an agent at a big dental insurance company? Press 00000, wait through a message, select language, 4, 0. Want to reach a human at a leading consumer electronics retailer? Press 111## and wait through three prompts asking for your home phone number.

That is a handy cheat sheet to stick on your refrigerator door, isn't it? And in case you don't have it around the next time you're tearing your hair out on the phone, the most common method by far for getting a human on line appears to be pressing 0 over and over and over until your fingers fall off.

And there's good news too: if you have problems with your beer, Anheuser-Busch still routes you directly to a live person when you call them. Cheers!

Kevin Drum 2:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments


KEVIN DRUM: THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD....AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU

I wish there was a way to get through to you that the political center cannot hold without strong voices from the left.


Posted by: jayarbee on February 26, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

For many businesses, if you do not press anything you will automatically be routed to a real person. It's only recently I've found that some phone lines will hang up if you try that, but for the most part it's like they are set up for people who don't own a modern telephone with the tone dialing, like your grandma who might still have a rotary dial phone.

Posted by: Donna on February 26, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Now, if we could just figure out a way to make sure to get to a native/fluent English speaker on the other end...

Posted by: MJ Memphis on February 26, 2006 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Jayarbee: Why do you think I'm opposed to strong voices from the left?

Posted by: Kevin Drum on February 26, 2006 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum IS the left, you ninnies!

LMAO at you guys!!!

Posted by: egbert on February 26, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

My biggest gripe is with automated systems that give a very short amount of time to punch in a number before they recycle. If I don't have my reading glasses on, I can never get my 13 digit electric account number inputed before I get booted.

Same with my old bank. Which is why I have a new bank.

Posted by: Keith G on February 26, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

"Kevin Drum IS the left"

Well, maybe for Orange County.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on February 26, 2006 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

This is an awesome project. I'm currently in the situation of having ordered a part for my scientific lab, but I don't think it came with the documentation and manual it was supposed to come with. As far as I can tell, there is no possible way to use either email or phone to A) ask for the manual in the mail, or B) ask whether it is supposed to come with a manual, or C) ask if we can send it back and get a new one that actually contains documentation.

It's only $60, so I guess we'll just order another one. Thank you Becton-Dickinson!

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on February 26, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

This is great, now if someone could tell me how to get an American on the phone instead of Apu Nahasapimapetilan, that would be greater.

Posted by: grytpype on February 26, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Companies like Banks that work things from an "e-commerce will save us" approach will find out that they are still left with same equation at the end of the day. If your customer contact ethic sucks, and you secretly don't want to "work" with your customers, you will be discovered and you will fail.

The margin of the profit for the future will be in service level and human acknowledgement, not automation.

Posted by: Ten in Tenn on February 26, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

in the middle of escalating civil war in iraq, portgate, and republican corruption everywhere, this is what you come up with Kevin...[headshaking]...Political Animal...i don't think so. 'Load O'Crap' is more like it.

Posted by: justfred on February 26, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

When will the professional Bush haters stop blaming everything on GWB? As if the President himeslf designed all these voice mail systems!

Posted by: tbrosz on February 26, 2006 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

By definition, anyone drinking an Anheuser-Busch
product might have problems with his/her beer.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on February 26, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

grytpype: "Hello, my name is Ramachalamaka... err, I mean, Joe. How can I assist you today?"

justfred: The other threads on your preferred topics are still open, perhaps you should go comment there instead?

Posted by: MJ Memphis on February 26, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Ya know, I hate voice mail systems with numbers as much as anyone, but I have to speak in defense of Apu Nahasapimapetilan and his brethren and sistern. I had to replace the motherboard on my desktop a few months ago and it turned out that Microsoft Office did not want to reinstall. I got kicked around to about four people, all obviously South Asian, and they were all polite, patient, and helpful, and got me to an expert who figured out what had gone wrong and got my Office reinstalled. Now, if we could just do something about the Americans who run Microsoft and design and market their dreadful but ubiquitous products that lock you in so you have to use them because everybody else does...

Posted by: jhill on February 26, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Why are you guys making fun of Indians and their names?

Posted by: nut on February 26, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking as someone who's actually done technical support for a few years, let me tell you.

We hate IVRs MORE than you do. They never work, they misroute people to the wrong department, all that jazz. It makes more work, not less. In technical support, sometimes common troubleshooting steps will be told to the customer, but we really still have to do them because most customers dont' actually do them, and lie and say that they did.

And if you listen to them, you end up spending an hour troubleshooting an issue that could have been fixed in 2 minutes :\

Posted by: Karmakin on February 26, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

This is great.

And now for something OT and completely different from my local paper:

Shreveport Powerball Winner Beats Deadline to Claim $853,496
The mystery Match-5 Bonus Powerball winner from the Oct. 19, 2005, drawing now has a name! Steve Jones correctly matched the five white ball numbers drawn from the $340 million Powerball drawing and claimed $853,492 at the Louisiana Lottery Corporation's headquarters. He said he found his ticket after sweeping under the bed!


I guess it's a good thing he didn't vacuum.

Posted by: CFShep on February 26, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

This is great, now if someone could tell me how to get an American on the phone instead of Apu Nahasapimapetilan, that would be greater.

Posted by: grytpype on February 26, 2006 at 2:44 PM

And get Homer? Apu may be harder to understand but at least I will not get your world famous attitude and arrogance

Posted by: SS on February 26, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, thanks for this godsend of a post.

As an aside, I have to echo jhill's comments. I've found service reps in India to usually be far more helpful and polite than their American counterparts. The odd thing is that they are reluctant to admit that that's where they are.

Posted by: Brian on February 26, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK



KEVIN DRUM: Why do you think I'm opposed to strong voices from the left?

Because they don't fit in with your religion: capitalism. Because the trees are blocking your view of the forest. Because you fear more that you might be one of the 3,000 to die in the next attack by the "enemy" than you care about the fact that an equal number will die of starvation in the next couple of hours and every couple of hours. Because you equate human value with wealth and power, rather than with humanity. Because you don't think we can do better. Because you memorized a thousand little verses telling you that our system is the best there is, needing only a bit of tinkering. Because you have gifts which surpass those of others and you believe they entitle you to greater rewards. Because you believe that Darwin's proof that it's natural for the strong to prey on the weak means it's also right. Because you are afraid. Do you have any other reasons?


Posted by: jayarbee on February 26, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Want real customer service, look up the companies corporate headquarters phone number. When the receptionist answers (and they do on the first ring, could be investors calling after all) ask for the COO or CEO or VP of what ever division your having a problem with. If asked why your calling just say, they'll know what it's about. You usually won't reach them directly, but you'll get their assistant. Explain the problem, if you get the blow off just ask to leave a message for whatever overpaid exec you're calling for and let them know you'll be calling again tomorrow to follow up. Trust me you'll have your problem taken care of ASAP, the suits DON'T want to have to talk to a customer.

Posted by: Adventuregeek on February 26, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

nut- I guess I wasn't clear there. What I find humorous isn't the Indian names (my fiancee's name is just as long as most of them)- it is the fact that all of the Indian tech support folks I have dealt with seem to have been assigned a very b-flat WASP name to use for their work. So when I hear the tech support dude with a heavy Indian accent say "Hello, my name is Joe", my first thought is "Yeah, sure it is."

Also, I don't have a problem with the concept of foreign tech support so long as they are fluent in the language in which they are supposed to be offering me support (which is why I wrote native/fluent). Sadly, I usually tend to get the fellow who just finished his "Learn English in 6 Hours or Less!" course.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on February 26, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I just had a great experience with costumer service. We have a lot of older analytical equipment and when we call in to ask questions we often get mysteriously forwarded to sales. This time I was forwarded to the semi-retired engineer who designed and programed our machine and he was able to fax us the wiring diagram and identify our problem. I'm happy, but aren't these guys breaking all the tenets of 21st century capitalism?

Posted by: toast on February 26, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, HEY, be quiet! Some megacorp is gonna read this and decide voice recognition is the solution, and it ain't!

My company-mandated this-wiil-save-money-by-shipping-every-$2.00-prescription-for-$6.50 mail-order pharmacy gives me the "service" of renewing prescriptions via a telephone.

The problem is that it demands voice input. I give it credit for good voice recognition, but the damn prompting is SO slow and it goes back to the start with every little background noise:

"Hello, this is the automated telephone system for megapharma monopolies US. Blah blah blah blah blah.

If you would like to refill a prescription please say "yes".

Pause

"Yes"

You said "Yes" you would like to refill a prescription. If this is correct please say "yes."

Pause

"Yes"

You said you would like to refill a prescription. You will need the prescription number. The prescription number is a ten digit number found at the top blah blah blah. If your prescription does not have any refills we will blah blah blah. Do you have your 10-digit prescription number?
If you have your 10-digit prescription number, please say "Yes."

pause

"Yes"

You said "yes," you have your 10 digit prescription number. Please state your 10 digit prescription number:

pause

"Two" "three" (Dog barking) "Seven" "one" "one" "six"

I did not understand what you said. Please state your 10 digit prescription number:

pause

(dog barking)

"Be quiet. Quiet! Somebody shut up this dog!!"

I did not understand what you said. This is the automated telephone system for megapharma monopolies US. Blah blah blah blah blah.

If you would like to refill a prescription please say "yes".

pause

"GOD DAMN IT!"

I did not understand what you said. This is the automated telephone system for megapharma monopolies US. Blah blah blah blah blah.

If you would like to refill a prescription please say "yes".

pause

"Son of a Bitch!"

I did not understand what you said. This is the automated telephone system for megapharma monopolies US. Blah blah blah blah blah.

If you would like to refill a prescription please say "yes".

pause

(From the other room) "Honey, did you get my prescription refilled?"

I did not understand what you said. This is the automated telephone system for megapharma monopolies US. Blah blah blah blah blah.

If you would like to refill a prescription please say "yes".

pause.

(Slamming down phone.) "No dear, the computer was down. I'll have to try later."

Posted by: Tripp on February 26, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Because they don't fit in with your religion: capitalism. Because the trees are blocking your view of the forest. Because you fear more that you might be one of the 3,000 to die in the next attack by the "enemy" than you care about the fact that an equal number will die of starvation in the next couple of hours and every couple of hours. Because you equate human value with wealth and power, rather than with humanity. Because you don't think we can do better. Because you memorized a thousand little verses telling you that our system is the best there is, needing only a bit of tinkering. Because you have gifts which surpass those of others and you believe they entitle you to greater rewards. Because you believe that Darwin's proof that it's natural for the strong to prey on the weak means it's also right. Because you are afraid. Do you have any other reasons?


Posted by: jayarbee"

Jeez, dude, pull the nails out of your palms already.

Posted by: Brian on February 26, 2006 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

I've always found that my questions can be answered through the Anheuser-Busch online FAQ. As a share holder I'm going to suggest that there is room to cut costs in the call center.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 26, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

And what's the cheat code for turning off the wishy washy background muzak while I'm on hold for the customer rep?

Posted by: ogmb on February 26, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Before Christmas I ordered something off the Land's End website. About 20 minutes later I realized I gotten a shirt measurement wrong and called their 800 number.

A human being answered. She fixed the problem in 2 minutes. The biggest delay was me getting over the surprise of having a human being answer my call.

Posted by: Oberon on February 26, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I assure you, tbrosz, no one here thinks Bush could design a voicemail system of any kind.

Posted by: Bobarino on February 26, 2006 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

In the spirit of fairness, the absolute worst automated system I have ever gone through is entirely domestic- I think it was the US Customs and Immigration help line (if not, it was one of the State Department lines for visa help). I had a question about a visa form. The menus are very long, there are extremely long, tedious monologues that you are forced to listen to before you can get to the menus, and if you don't dial your choice fast enough, you get dumped back to the beginning. Also, if I remember correctly, the code for getting to a human was hidden pretty deep in the system.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on February 26, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

"You have selected regicide. If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one."

Posted by: Mornington Crescent on February 26, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

.....but, but, but how do you get to an English speaking individual once you do get thought for any of our numberous electronic equipment problems, such as warranties and other issues - that's the real trick.

If I can't understand the person I'm speaking with, is it any better then an automated system?

Customer serivce is one of those greatly over-rated, bean-picking issues that corporations don't feel the need to invest to much overhead into simply because this kind of expense is based on the bean picking fact that there are always going to be unhappy customers. Are even dead consumer as far as Firestone tire understands it. So what?

Moving to the next corporate call center can be just as bad or worse then the first company's services. It makes you realize that bean-picking the consumers has developed into a refined kind of non-service state of art via corporate American


So that now, and thanks to 50 house Democrats - class action law suites are something corporate American doesn't have worry about, a re-newed effort to create a better bean-picking world, because, should there be too many unhappy consumers that want to do anything about the unhappy situation, there is no redress.

What is in Washingonton DC these days doesn't represent "We the people" anymore but rather only corporate American.

Posted by: Cheryl on February 26, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Heddy. In fact, the beer comment reminds me of a time about twenty years ago, when I was in a hotel bar in Dublin in mid-afternoon. As is the custom, instead of tipping, I offered to buy the barman something. He said he'd have a Bud.

I was a bit flabbergasted, and I told him so. "You live not far from the home of what I and many others consider to be the greatest beer in the world. I, on the lother hand, live about ten minutes' drive from a Bud factory, [don't EVER call it a brewery - it's no brew, and that's a fact] and you couldn't pay me to drink it." He replied that, having grown up with Guinness, Bud made for a nice change. That kind of made sense, but I still didn't believe it.

That was when he explained that AB had only recently begun exporting Bud to Europe, and the bar got a free keg for every kegfull they sold, meaning they made more money when he had a Bud. So I guess there are some people you can pay to drink it.

To be fair, I have since discovered that certain American products I would never buy in the U.S.A. are better in foreign countries (Ford, McDonald's), and I now wish that I had tried a Bud in Ireland that day, just to see if the same was true for brew.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on February 26, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

"Because they don't fit in with your religion: capitalism. Because the trees are blocking your view of the forest. Because you fear more that you might be one of the 3,000 to die in the next attack by the "enemy" than you care about the fact that an equal number will die of starvation in the next couple of hours and every couple of hours. Because you equate human value with wealth and power, rather than with humanity. Because you don't think we can do better. Because you memorized a thousand little verses telling you that our system is the best there is, needing only a bit of tinkering. Because you have gifts which surpass those of others and you believe they entitle you to greater rewards. Because you believe that Darwin's proof that it's natural for the strong to prey on the weak means it's also right. Because you are afraid. Do you have any other reasons?" - jayarbee

Jayarbee, could you remind me again what economic system works better than some form of regulated capitalism? In the two best real world case studies, in which a coherent nation was split in two with different governments and economies (Korea and Germany), could you remind me which halves had higher standards of living, for poor, middle class, and the rich? And given that a group that kills thousands of Americans earns only a scare-quoted "enemy" from you, could you remind me again how many of your fellow citizens a group or nation has to kill before you'll see fit to drop the quotes?

There are plenty of far-left and far-right bloggers out there, and fewer, it seems, center-left and center-right bloggers. I consider Kevin to be in the center-left, which is one of the reasons I enjoy his blog. If that's just too far right for you, I guarantee with a little effort you can find that echo chamber you long for.

Posted by: ChiSox Fan in LA on February 26, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

hey tripp ! i always hang up on the first call for ( yes )
what really piss offs me is to be transferred to seven different people and each one states " thats not my job "
my response to that gets a hang on me .

Posted by: THATS NOT MY JOB on February 26, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

The CALL center; and I thought we were talking about politics. Forget the center--nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and some roadkill. Get left, get right and get it on. Everyone trying to get to the center is like forming a committee--nothing gets done, just blah, blah, blah.

Posted by: j brewton on February 26, 2006 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

As someone who does tier two tech support at a large (non-US) telecommunications company with a number of different departments, I feel like I have to add my two cents here:

Those IVRs are intended to get you through to someone that won't have to transfer you. As happy as the thought of getting through to a real person might make you, that's really not the whole story by any means.

Everone at my work has a number of different skillsets-for example, I can deal with mobile and fixed line faults, but ask me a question about your bill or your broadband connection and I'm lost. Our internal phone system is designed to reflect these different skillsets, so selecting the correct options will get you through to someone that can actually help you.

Now, of course IVRs can be faulty or poorly designed, but the vast majority of the time if you end up in the wrong place, it's a result of either not listening to all the options before selecting one or not being familiar with the company's way of phrasing your issue. The first is simply a fact of human nature, but the second can be either poor phrasing by the company or a lack of technical knowledge by the customer, both of which can be fixed by the rep that takes the first call educating the customer.

That's why you should never get mad at a rep that tells you you've come through to the wrong department and they need to transfer you-they're making sure you know what to listen for in the future.

Of course, a standard reponse to this is "But why have an IVR when I can simply talk to a person and tell them what I need and get *them* to tranfer me to the right place?"

There are two reasons why this is a bad idea. The first is purely practical-transferring calls between departments is inefficient and prone to failure. You're increasing the wait time of people trying to get through to both the department you arrived at and the department you're being transferred to (if that is even the right department.)

The second is more related to why these companies have IVRs in the first place-often identifying which department you need to talk to is only possible if you know something about the issue the customer is calling about in the first place. Getting someone who knows nothing about your issue to transfer you somewhere else is very much hit and miss-if neither they nor you know what your issue is, chances are you won't end up where you need to go.

The backlash against IVRs is twofold-the aesthetic reaction against recorded voices, and the frustration with their complexity and percieved inefficiency. The reality is that the first is necessary, and the second is as much a result of customer behaviour as it is poor design on the part of the companies that use them.

IVRs exist because if they didn't, every company with a call centre would have to train every single member of its staff how to deal with every single issue a customer could possibly call about. That is neither practical nor desirable.

Posted by: Andre on February 26, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

> Jayarbee: Why do you think I'm opposed to
> strong voices from the left?

1) Because you consistently repeat, respond to, and validate Radical frames

2) The primary Radical frame that you validate is the one that says the artifical "centerpoint" that the Radicals have created by dragging public politics 3000 miles to the right of Berry Goldwater is in fact the median of American beliefs, opinions, and politics.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 26, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

I think I read most of the relevant comments above and don't recall anyone defending automated voice trees, etc.
Although I am 64 and therefore very used to people on the other end of the phone, I have not been that upset with most of the systems I encounter. For example, I have a type I diabetic son who uses lots of pharmacy stuff, and all the reordering is done with touch tone phone with no hassle. I find that the decision tree for the satellite support is logical and gets me to the "right" person to help with the particular issue at hand. My theory is that people these days are too impatient and everyone thinks their issue is the only important one. Plus, once you have one bad experience, it is hard to be fair for the next encounter.
Anyway, two cents spent.
Bye

Posted by: David on February 26, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Thank the Lord or whomever for a real person answering at Anheuser-Busch - Only use it for killing slugs in the garden - If those dastardly snails invade from down Caleefornee way, I'll be able to ask them about how it works on those critters as well.

Do they still answer "Swill R' Us?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on February 26, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

CHISOX FAN IN LA: And given that a group that kills thousands of Americans earns only a scare-quoted "enemy" from you, could you remind me again how many of your fellow citizens a group or nation has to kill before you'll see fit to drop the quotes?
Oh, I don't know. Perhaps some number that's greater than 10% of those who die of hunger and neglect every single day, but which manages not to "scare" you into quoting that figure while singing the praises of the economic marvels of South Korea and West Germany.

As to the comparisons you make between them and their counterparts in the north and east, you neglect to mention that murder doesn't make mayhem a good thing, black doesn't make gray white, the monster that was Hitler doesn't make Bush human, and your implications don't determine my advocacy.

But thanks for the reminder regarding echo chambers, despite its condescension and hypocrisy. Kevin's blog; nearly all media; the stores where you shop, the roads you drive, the place you work, the house where you live; virtually every molecule you encounter . . . all are a giant echo chamber for a system which oppresses 90% of the world's population.


Posted by: jayarbee on February 26, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp, that's wonderfully funny.
Two comments: 1) There is an option to enter numbers using the phone keys--though, as noted earlier, it helps to have the number in front of your eyes.
2) The cheat sheet report seems to have emphasized the more complicated formulae, perhaps to make the story more interesting. However, I've tried it with almost every business call (admittedly none of them for tech support) since the cheat sheet was reported on NPR weeks ago, and a simple double-zero has worked every time. 3) Any amount of key-pushing is preferable to the agonizingly dopey-jokey ear-torture while on hold at Southwest Airlines.

Posted by: Grandma on February 26, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Wow... if Kevin's blog manages to oppress 90% of the world's population, I wonder how much Instapundit oppresses?

Posted by: MJ Memphis on February 26, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I used to work as a phone support rep. It was a small software starup in the golden age - early 1990's.

Then we got bought - and we had to "grow up" and get a real phone system, with recorded voices, menus, the whole 9 yards. The only real effect I saw, as a backline rep, was that it was like turning on a "stress" switch for the poor frontline boobs. Because it virtually guaranteed that they got a pissed-off customer. Pre-support-menu, when support had it's own phone number, and it went directly to the frontline rep for the company's one product, customers were happy. But when they had to wade through the menu, and provide a serial number, etc. customers went from happy and cooperative to confrontational.


This had a very unpleasant technical side-effect as well.

Happy customers would cooperate. They'd try to reproduce problems, they'd send in diagnostic logs, they'd try reloads, and hardware swaps. Pissed off customers wouldn't cooperate - they most often just wanted their money back (which was strictly against policy, so they'd just call their sales rep and bitch).

Without the cooperation, everytime a new release of ours came out, or everytime a major OS upgrade came out from Microsoft, or Novell, or Sun, we'd be confronted with a whole host of new issues that our testing/QA group never saw. We were on the vanguard of problem solving. But when a customer doesn't want to help you solve a problem, then you end up refunding their purchase price, you lose a customer, and the problem remains unresolved because we don't have enough information to even start figuring out the cause. When the customer is cooperating, the information they provide is invaluable in finding the cause of the problem and fixing it. When a customer is not cooperating, because they're pissed off about how hard it is to get a warm body on the phone, you're not getting jack from him. And then the problem goes unresolved, and then someone else runs into it, and they're not happy either, so they don't help you either.

I tried to explain this to my new managers. All they saw was dollar signs for cost for paying support people American salaries. They didn't see the dollar signs of lost sales. The more we got bought, merged, and consolidated, we went from a company of 100 employees to over 5000 worldwide - the less effective we became at offering customers solutions to their problems.

Overconsolidation is what popped the dotcom bubble, and what is strangling the economy of the west. Companies don't consolidate because it makes them more effective. They consolidate because the board or investors have a hard-on for power and market-control.


Posted by: Mornington Nomic on February 26, 2006 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK


MJ MEMPHIS: Wow... if Kevin's blog manages to oppress 90% of the world's population, I wonder how much Instapundit oppresses?
They're trying hard for the other 10%. Are they ever satisfied? Last man standing wins!


Posted by: jayarbee on February 26, 2006 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Andre:I'd agree with what you asy, but there's two types of IVRs.

There's the first, the simple kinda, that basically says..is yours a technical or a billing issue today? #1 gets you to tech support, and #2 gets you to billing. Simple as that. People don't have a problem with this.

What people have a problem with is IVRs (And you don't see this very much in technical support...as I mentioned, the most you see is a request to power cycle the modem) that try to eliminate the contact with the customer. This is what irritates people. That they have to enter phone numbers and billign information to get somethign fixed that they usually can't understand in the first place...that's why're they're calling.

And to the person who mentioned stop complaining about Apu, you'll just get Homer...that's right on. Most technical support in America these days are in a couple of places..the West Coast, and the Austin corridor in Texas. Chances are if you think you're talking to an American you're talking to a Canadian. When I started, there was centers all over the place.

Customers demanded more technical knowledge than most of those places could deliver. Anti-intellectualism for the loss!

One other thing. Complaining about QA..trust me. It's not as easy as you think it is. One particular bug in a software program I've seen...

The bug was in there for about two years before it was discovered, and it was a reproducable crash bug. It just needed such specific circumstances that nobody ever found it.

There's probably stuff in every software package out there that nobody will EVER find.

Good software companies rely on customer feedback to find, document, reproduce and eliminate those problems. Especially when you're dealing with a fluctuating OS, where an update can cause random new bugs to appear.

Posted by: Karmakin on February 26, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

It's amazing how much companies are willing to spend in advertising, marketing etc. to acquire a customer and then how casually they are willing to lose them through their lack of concern and response to customer's needs.

It's like the corporate geniuses believe if they build a system where the customer's issues cannot be heard, because the customer cannot get through to raise an issue, then in fact they (the companies) have no customer problems.

Posted by: joeiscoffe on February 26, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK


JOEISCOFFEE: It's like the corporate geniuses believe if they build a system where the customer's issues cannot be heard, because the customer cannot get through to raise an issue, then in fact they (the companies) have no customer problems.

It's a little lesson they learned from the government. But, hey, it's a free country. So I guess you could hire a lobbyist to get through to customer service or tech support.


Posted by: jayarbee on February 26, 2006 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

As someone who runs a business whose financial success is highly dependent on customer service (I run a Sylvan Learning Center), it amazes me how short sighted big businesses can be when it comes to customer service.

Happy customers refer other people (we get about 25% of our new business from customer referrals), unhappy customers badmouth you to everyone they know. Therefore, rule #1 is to always resolve the customer's concern, even if it costs you money in the short term.

Seven years ago, my wife and I had a bad experience on American Airlines which they could have resolved by simply refunding us our $500 for our two tickets when our flight got cancelled and they couldn't get us to our destination. Instead, they screwed around with us, didn't give us a refund, and have cost themselves thousands of dollars, since my wife and I and our families have been boycotting them ever since.

Every day I am simply astounded by the way otherwise smart corporate executives continue to unvalue the importance of customer service. In an era where so many different companies are offering similar products, its the service that sets you apart from your competitors.

Posted by: MattW on February 26, 2006 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

By definition, anyone drinking an Anheuser-Busch
product might have problems with his/her beer.

First thing I thought of when I read Kevin's closing paragraph! And naturally, Hedy Lamarr beat me to it by several hours.

Posted by: RT on February 26, 2006 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of months ago, I loaded a system upgrade into my Mac (Panther? One of those big cats. Latest one, whatever it is) that resulted in screwing up my DSL connections. Actually, I think I screwed up by not fully reading all of the instructions. I could have done some fairly simple procedures on the system menu. I called SBC and went through the menus. Got a very nice lady who was clearly Indian (slight accent), but whose English was impeccable. She walked me through revamping the system stuff and, presto, I was good to go. Not a bad experience at all. She did well and the wait time wasn't excessive. Not bad at all, when one considers I was calling from California to India. This is the second time I've had to deal with SBC reps from India; the first one wasn't bad, either.

OTOH, when I dealt with a Dish Network rep based in Texas, I finally hung up out of sheer frustration. She didn't have a clue: told me my satellite dish wasn't working because of rain, not high winds or anything like that, but rain. After I asked if she knew exactly how much good she was doing for the marketing department, she got huffy. That's when I hung up. In fairness to Dish Network, the next lady, based in SoCal, was hot shit good. She was appalled at what the previous lady had told me. So was the guy who came out on the service call.

I think where people may get seriously thwarted is when they don't listen carefully to the options presented in the IVR menu. You really have to listen to what are sometimes pretty confusing options. And, yeah, it's great to get a human being right off the bat, but, OTOH, exactly what would I gain from being connected directly with Suzy, the HS graduate in L.A. or wherever? She couldn't have done what I needed.

In fairness to the companies involvedand we all know they're in it for the filthy lucrethe fact is HS graduates in this country, with whom one used to initially interface in the halcyon days of hands-on customer serviceoftentimes seem to have trouble with putting together a coherent sentence in the English language. In addition to shortcomings in basic language skills andit goes without sayingin understanding the high tech stuff their customers are using, they often fall woefully short in the "care" department. As in I care about you or I care about my job.

And Kevin Drum highlights this. That's Kevin Drum, the guy who never responds to any post after about the first ten in a thread. If you ask him a specific question 25-50 posts down-thread, you will never, ever get a response. Kevin needs a response bot of some kind, one that will automatically reply with, "Kevin is vitally concerned with your issue and is thinking about it even as this reply is made. Kevin will be back to you shortly."

Posted by: Nixon Did It on February 26, 2006 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking as someone who has been watching the main competitor of my company shoot itself in the foot repeatedly by its awful customer interaction....

Note to any entrepreneurs out there in high-tech: when someone has paid $250K+ for an instrument, the last thing he wants is technical support that never answers the phone and takes 6 weeks to repair anything. We've had people buy our instrument simply because they have been so pissed off at our competition.

Posted by: tzs on February 26, 2006 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

I've found that Indian accents can be very difficult to understand, whether the speaker is on a telephone help line or speaking to me in person. Other foreign accents don't seem as impenetrable. Why this is so, I do not know, and the fact that there are _many_ accents in multilingual India makes it particularly strange.

Posted by: Peter on February 26, 2006 at 10:24 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe you should take one of those night courses in understanding indian accents for American couch potatoes.

Posted by: Abu Nahasapemapetalan on February 26, 2006 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

Oh Tripp! You hurt me.

Tears streaming down cheeks:

If you would like to refill a prescription please say "yes".

pause.

(Slamming down phone.) "No dear, the computer was down. I'll have to try later."
Posted by: Tripp


This is why I still don't voice mail on my new Cingular cell. That computer just does not comprehend Trans-Sabine w/Red River variant and has less in the way of a sense of humor than even rdw.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Do they still answer "Swill R' Us?
Posted by: thethirdPaul

It's still a bit early but have a nice Abita Amber, TTP. It's Lundi Gras. What the hell?

I'd offer you a Blackened Dixie Voodoo, but the pumps didn't work 'cause the vandals took the handle.

C'est Levee.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

In the restaurant industry there is a saying that every customer is worth a million dollars: one good experience and the customer will tell maybe 10 people, 5 of which may come in. One bad experience and they will tell dozens who will in turn tell dozens more and none of them will come in. But when you have entire industries that have piss-poor reputations for customer service, they all know it wont matter (think of the cellphone industry).

If it helps I heard that the guy that invented the phone tree system died broke.

BTW: if you are drinking Bud you already have a problem with thier beer. Brew your own. If you can make a box of premixed brownies and clean a kitchen you have all the skills necessary to get started.

Posted by: clyde on February 27, 2006 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly