I make a lot of phone calls in the day. Note that I didn’t say I talked to a lot of people. Rather, and probably like you, I spend my day listening to a lot of corporate “please hold” messages. It’s gotten to the point that I can pretty much guess at exactly what they’re going to say before they plop me into the queue.
And I realized today that pretty much everything they say on those messages is a lie. Case in point:
“We are experiencing a higher-than-average call volume.“
Bullshit. I’m looking at you, Shaw Cable. You’ve had that on your “please hold” message since 1821. It’s not that you’re suddenly experiencing more calls, it’s that you’ve chosen to not add more staff. I mean, did suddenly — just before I called on Tuesday at 11:20 a.m. — hundreds of people flood your call centre to order the iPhoto slide show channel?1 Give me a break.
Some companies even have the audacity to take this one level further with “Because of overwhelming demand for our product, we’re experiencing…” Really Rogers Cellular? You’re doing that well? Because your financial statements are reporting the opposite — that, in fact, your bottom-line income2 for 2008 actually dropped as compared to the previous year. Yeah. Overwhelming demand.
“Our menu options have changed.“
No. They haven’t. Companies use this line because they want to rope people into listening to their whole spiel first — which often includes product ads.3 Menu options don’t change often. Even if they do, do you really have to leave that on your message for the next five years?
“So that we can route this call to the right agent, please choose from one of the following options.“
This is one of the oldest tricks in the books. It’s called the “Operator 123″ trick in marketing circles. You know those ads that say to call their number and ask to speak to operator 123? Here’s the secret: there is no operator 123. That was ad number #123 you just responded to and by asking for a specific operator, you’ve helped them track which ad you responded to.4
That’s basically what’s happening with many of these corporate “please hold” messages. You’re going to talk to the same operator no matter what button you push. What you’ve done instead is logged a little reference in some tracking database what product you own or what your complaint is. And then, you simply get pawned off on whichever agent comes up next.
“Your call is important to us.”
Oops, excuse me — I throw up in my mouth a little. The paradox here is that the companies who dole out this rote, weak statement are the ones who seem to care the least about their customers — at least judging from their customer service. I mean, how do they know my next call is going to be important to them? Maybe I’ll just yodel for the first 30 seconds. That’s not going to be so important…
“Please choose from one of the following options.”
This would be great, if the options they’re offering have anything to do with why I was calling. Today, my financial institution called me seven times in the space of an hour. I was on an important call at the time and let it go to voicemail. Since there were so many calls in the space of such a short time, I wondered if there was something wrong. So I called their number.
Now remember, I am calling to ask why they called and if it were important. Which option would you pick?
- Check your balance, pay a bill, transfer funds, or change your personal access code
- Branch information or for our phone directory
- Loans, mortgages, or lines of credit
- Information on our new tax-free savings account or other investments and rates
- Visa questions including lost and stolen cards
- Personal or business banking needs
I guessed 6, only because it was the most generic. Of course, it was at the end.
Which of course, brought me to the most frequent lie of them all:
“To make sure you get excellent customer service, this call may be recorded.”
Um, what?! I’m going to get better service because a hard disk somewhere is recording our conversation? Get real. I have no doubt that if the call goes weird, you might be able to use it to train future reps on what to do, but the fact that you’re recording our chat won’t help me get anything. Here’s the real reason they record the call: Legal reasons. Organizations these days want a record of everything. Especially government and public sector organizations. It also helps them prove to you they were right and you are wrong, should it come to a dispute. But really, aren’t they always?
There are fewer and fewer companies which offer something as simple as this:
You’ve reached the customer support line of ABC Widgets. Please hold for an operator.
Would it be that hard?
Luckily, the Internet has a solution for everything, and some sites offer a tip sheet on which buttons to press to get through to a human being faster. For instance, when you call Tivo, just say “Live Agent” at the recording and it’ll blast you through. Not so easy at Dell Support where the secret code is5 1, 7266966, 1, 4, 4.
- This is actually a real channel — called The Frame — that Shaw sells. Go watch channel 165 on Shaw digital cable and see for yourself. [↩]
- which Rogers calls “comprehensive income” [↩]
- Call the Apple Store in Vancouver and the first thing you’ll get is a message proclaiming proudly “The iPhone 3GS is here!” Then, when you actually get to speak to a human you discover that no, the iPhone 3GS is not here. Hasn’t been for weeks. And they have no idea when they’re coming in. [↩]
- I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; it’s pretty clever marketing, actually. [↩]
- I’m not making this up [↩]