Vital Signs: Does Your Call Center Amaze or Annoy?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Whenever I make a phone call, I watch what happens; it’s an occupational hazard. Often what I witness provides fodder for a column or blog post. So, based on personal experience, here are some ways you can either amaze or annoy your patients and callers:

Interactive Voice Response: Most people hate IVR, likely because of poor implementation. Though IVR is great if it actually speeds up calls, I have doubts. Once I made repeated calls to a help desk, each time navigating seven levels of prompts, taking almost two minutes per call. Unfortunately the person who eventually answered could never help me and repeatedly transferred me to someone else. Worse are endless IVR loops, forcing callers to hang up or make a wrong selection to escape.

If your call center has IVR, make sure it actually speeds up calls from a caller’s perspective. Remember, you are there to serve them. And always provide the option to press zero for an agent; just make sure to route it to a person and not back to the beginning of the IVR tree or into an unidentified voicemail.

Estimated Wait Time: Informing callers of the expected time before an agent will be available is a nice touch. Usually the estimate is reliable, and often the agent answers sooner.

My worst experience was being “next in line,” a promise that repeated every fifteen seconds. After thirty minutes, I placed the call on hold and ate dinner. I returned to hear the same announcement and waited another two hours. I put the call on hold again and went to bed. After fourteen hours, I was still “next in line.” I placed a second simultaneous call and that one was also “next in line.” I disconnected both calls and redialed; I was still “next in line.” After waiting another two hours of being “next in line,” someone responded to one of my many email pleas for help. It was the president of the company, and he was not pleased to hear about my ordeal.

It’s great to offer this customer-friendly feature; just periodically test it to make sure it actually works.

Schedule a Callback: Having the choice to receive a callback instead of waiting on hold is a nice option – provided the company follows through. I’ve only tried this a few times. Mostly it works as promised, but one time no one ever called me. A third time, I received a callback but on a different number and on a different day than what I requested.

While some people are willing to hold for the “next available agent,” others prefer the freedom to do something else as they await a return call. Win customer appreciation by offering both.

Once Should Be Enough: After entering information on my keypad in order to talk to a person, I often need to repeat the information to an agent, sometimes more than once. This is exasperating, and it’s poor customer service. Make sure your call center captures requested information and passes it along with the call, from system to system and agent to agent.

Your Number, Please: I expect call centers to know the number I’m calling from and display it to agents, but this commonsense feature is often lacking. Don’t ask me for what you should already know.

Also, if you access my account by my phone number, make provisions for customers who call from different numbers or change numbers. For one vendor I still need to give them my old phone number that changed several years ago. They can’t seem to update their system to handle my new number.

Does your call center technology amaze or annoy customers?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From the Feb/Mar 2015 issue of AnswerStat magazine]