Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Telephone Voice Menus, a useful bane

We've all used them, and we still use them, on an almost daily basis. Please pay careful attention because our menu system has changed...Press 2 if you want Spanish, Press 7673 if you want English...Press 8 for sales...Press 27 for customer care...and at the end of the experience, which took about 20 minutes to navigate, we have to hold for another 20 just to speak to someone.

I understand why they do it. Call centers can be pretty costly to setup, with the biggest expense being salaries. Although each individual may earn what would be considered a relatively low salary, when you multiply that by 600 you can see you are dishing out a fair amount of change. Then there's the technology costs, and training, etc. So for every CSR (Customer Service Representative--being a bit on the techy side of CS) to have billing capabilities could pose huge additional costs, with each having to have access to the credit card system, and then there's security--how do you protect everyones credit card numbers from being copied then used fraudulently later on? Then you have that training expense, the list goes on.

Then there's the reporting systems that all these Customer Service systems have. What was the total call volume, who called for what department, then quality for the CSR's themselves, did they resolve the question in the company way, did they stick to policy and save the company money, did they save face and make an exception to policy to have a happy returning customer. All this can be reported upon depending on the options chosen, and they can report on length of call, etc. Can you imagine a CSR having to know every nuance of the company to ensure their quality remains top notch. That would make them directors.

However, us customers, poor plebeians that we are want to speak to someone. A lot of us have tight schedules to adhere to, and deadlines to meet, and having to wait for hours on end to get answers can be very frustrating. The telephone systems have to change, and they have to become more streamlined to deliver targeted, effective services, much like search engines work hard to get algorithms right so that the most relevant results get displayed at the top. Why not apply these principals to telephony systems?

This is how I see it, when a customer phones your system, it's not how you pizazz them with how fancy shmancy you sound, or how professional the recorded voice sounds, it's how effective the message is conveyed, and the speed of service and the expertise of the person who deals with their inquiry or problem that proves how good your company is and the services you provide. People know that the phone systems are cleverly programmed computer systems that act on DTMF frequencies to "click the links" for the appropriate queue. So lets bring the systems back down to the level of being a computer driven menu and drive it for speed:

Thanks for calling ACME Industries. For Spanish press 2, Sales 1, Billing 3, Tech support 4, Operator 0, Directory 8.

See how simple that is. Single keywords and single digits, quickly annunciated for complete clarity. There's nothing worse than having to listen for 10 seconds while an individual option is slowly spoken. With the shorter system, it's succinct and quick to listen to. If we were on a website we would skim through the keywords to find the information we want, lets skim through voice prompts to reduce frustration.

Which leads me onto the next thing, while it may be convenient for the CSR to have my information presented to them as my call comes through, it's one total nightmare trying to get the system to understand me when asking me for my account information before I get put through to someone, unless I specifically choose to use the self help options first. It isn't because people can use an automated system that you get less calls, it's because they don't want to go through the hassle of spelling out a name, then having the system say "I'm sorry, I didn't understand that, can we try again? " (ignores "NO" when shouted) "...What was your...".

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Chip & Pin - When will we see this in the US?

I've just read an article by the BBC that states the amount of credit card fraud has dropped to the lowest levels in ten years, at just 187m over the first six months of the year. That's an incredible achievement I believe, considering that the past eleven years has cost the banking industry over four and a half billion pounds sterling.

While I was living in the UK, the banking industry introduced chip and pin, a credit card containing not only a magnetic swipe strip, but also a smart card chip similar to the ones seen on cellphone sim cards. It was clearly recognized at the time that magnetic strips could easily be copied when a customer wasn't looking by swiping their card in a reader, then swiping the card to do the actual charge on a PDQ. The person who copied the information later transfers that digital data to another credit card, presumably in their name which then makes an exact replica of the original credit card, minus names, to minimize required explanation when the credit card does not match the persons real name.

The original magnetic readers were obsoleted throughout the entire commercial industry, and restaurants, bars, cafes, shopping centers, corner stores, etc replaced the magnetic reader for a reader that read from the chip. That coupled with the physical input of the card holders pin number, facilitated through the use of easy to carry portable readers with key code entry pads, or shielded keypads at the register. Goodbye skimmers, goodbye having to have a working pen to scrawl ones autograph, goodbye nightmare, and it certainly seems that way.

I've lived in the States for the past three years now, and have yet to see ANYONE with a chip & pin card. If the UK suffered four point seven billion pounds in credit card fraud over eleven years, I would hate to imagine what the States has suffered, especially with a population that dwarfs the entire UK's population by 251 million people.

Since Chip & Pin appears to be so successful, isn't it about time that the US banks protect our hard earned cash, reduce the countries credit card fraud rate, and provide us with some cool looking credit cards that will be the talk of the country for several months? I don't like carrying cash around, but I'm also very wary when I had my card over to be swiped each and every time. I watch the person carrying my card like a hawk and if they go to the back to swipe my card, I pay extra special attention to their actions to ensure they aren't skimming my card. Should I, or anyone else have to feel this way?

Sure, the implementation of such a system would cost alot of money. Every card holder would need to be issued new cards, and all the PDQ machines would have to be replaced to support a card insertion slot which then enables the device to read from the chip rather than the magnetic strip, ATM machines would need to be upgraded, we as card holders would have to (dare I say it) remember that pin number and keep it handy--I can see how this could potentially cost millions if not a few billion dollars. Would the savings be worth it in the long run though? I believe the benefits outweigh the cons a million to one.

This needs to start at the congress level, if not the President himself. Reduce the fraud, and then the fees can be reduced. That's where it costs the most is the fees that banks charge for the privilege of having a card because of the scammers out there that skim cards and steal money, and it has to be paid somehow; I don't want to have to foot the bill, no matter how tiny my payments are in comparison to others and I think many other people would be in agreement.