Customer Service – what does your voicemail say about your company?

Greetings, Faithful Readers! I have been away for a while, but I am glad to be back and sharing my business musings with all of you. That’s the good news. The bad? Well, a recent experience in phone frustration has demanded comment.

We’ve all been there. We make a call to a company to get in touch with someone, address an issue, or do some business. In these days of economy and business belt tightening, it is the rare company that still has a receptionist either in person or on the phone. So, our calls are greeted by machine. And sometimes, (cue the spooky music), we are launched into “The Outer Limits”, the endless phone tree maze!

Check this one out. Like many of you, I have an elderly mother who needs a great deal of assistance with the tasks of living. I happen to handle all of her personal business, including paying the bills. She has moved recently, so address changes are an ongoing challenge. She is a retired state employee with a pension. (I will leave the state nameless.) I called the appropriate state office of retirement services to initiate the address change.

(Spooky music time! Theme music from Psycho? No! Jaws!)

I enter the phone tree. I am invited to enter Mother’s account number or social security number, neither of which I have at hand. I press “0″, attempting to bypass the tree and talk to an actual person. I am again invited to enter the aforementioned numbers. And again. I try entering anything, to move on and talk to a human. My entry is deemed unacceptable. I give up, hang up, and go find one of those numbers in Mother’s files.

Properly equipped with appropriate data, I call again. I proudly and carefully enter the necessary long number. The system helpfully reads it back to be and requests confirmation. It has doubled a couple of the digits! I retype, watching my entry VERY carefully. It does it again, missing another digit. How can this be? I know I entered it correctly. Third time’s the charm and, miracle of miracles, I progress.

They ask for tons more information, I forget exactly how much, but I get it all entered (multiple times in some cases – it keeps doubling digits) and the system finally rings through to a person. Five rings, now eight. I lose count. I am transferred to a recorded message and am informed that the person I am trying to contact has not yet set up the voice mail box and to press “0″ for assistance. I do so, praying for a living human voice. Instead, I am routed all the way to the beginning of the #@$%^#&^* phone tree!

This is unbelievable! It’s bad enough for me, but consider for a moment the audience for whom this monstrosity is intended. Remember? This is the state’s Office of Retirement Services. It is likely to be contacted by people just like my mother, 84 years old, physically disabled, hard of hearing, and in the early stages of dementia. She would have been forced to give up the minute she couldn’t actually contact a live person. Her pension is her lifeline. What reaction from her would you expect? Tears and panic? Probably.

Let’s consider this from a business perspective. This abysmal phone tree is the first contact this organization’s customers have when they have important business to transact. If this were a for-profit business, rather than a state monopoly, would you want to do business with this organization?

Neither would I.

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