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...".


allison said...

You hit the nail right on the head, Mark! I worked in a call center for 4 years, and I've spent countless hours on the other end of the phone, struggling with the menu options. It would be better for everyone to have the options more precise and streamlined. There is one business in particular which comes to mind, because their phone tree goes something like this: "para Espanol, primera dos...for appliances, press three. for computers, press four. for warranty issues, press five."
A user having technical issues with their laptop presses three, thinking they're going to get support. Instead, they are transferred to the computer sales department. They explain the issue, so then they are transferred to the warranty department, only to find out that the warranty department deals ONLY with the extended warranties, while they have the MANUFACTURER's Warranty. Blaaaaaaaah!

It seems that everything should come down to user-friendliness.

kathryn said...

Oh, this is so true. So, we need to put you in charge of all the CSR systems in the whole freakin' country!

Heaven forbid that you can press "0" and get a live person! Now, you get, "Please listen to this entire message because our options have changed" and it takes 3 rounds, with dialing anywhere from a 5 to a 6 being the choice for a live agent.

I feel lucky if I get good tunes to boogie to whilst on hold.

Great post!

Ingwa said...

Cathryn, careful, they may just do that to me. Menu systems are just way to complicated these days and take an age and a degree to understand, and then to listen to the drone again and again till you get it right.

And Allison nails it with the term user-friendly. I think there's too much emphasis on how smart our voice system has been recorded, and believe me, voice overs like that professionally produced do cost a small arm and leg so it's not like it's a cheap implementation. But it's not user friendly, and it's not precise.