Service elusive in maze of voices

They say talk is cheap. Unfortunately, it’s not cheap enough. When we saw an opportunity to save money and get better service, we switched all our phones to Vonage and our DSL service from a static IP address to dynamic. However, this brave new world of better service and lower cost has yet to materialize.

Shortly after the DSL service change, the VoIP service started failing. I won’t tell you the tedious tale of figuring out that it wasn’t Vonage’s problem, but I finally determined that our DSL service had become unstable.

So, I phoned SBC (of course, I couldn’t call them using my VoIP service), I navigated its wretched interactive voice response (IVR) front end and enthusiastically cursed whoever designed it.

Actually, it’s amazing how bad the majority of IVR systems are. A great example of an awful IVR belongs to Albertson’s supermarket chain. Should you have a complaint, there’s a customer service number on each receipt. But just try to get to a human being. If you don’t wind up enraged and frustrated, you’re up for sainthood.

Anyway, back to SBC: After entering my DSL telephone number, the number where I could be contacted, my weight, height, blood type and finally dividing by the first number I thought of, I finally hooked a CS wonk, I suspect in Bangalore.

Now, I knew I’d have to tell the same story all over again to a level-two wonk, so I simply requested a level-two wonk straight away. If you call SBC and don’t try to jump a level, the level-one people simply follow the script until they hit a brick wall and admit they can’t help you. They will then hand you over to a level-two wonk anyway.

I gave the level-two wonk most of the same information I’d already given the IVR, and off he went to check the line. “Yep,” he confirmed, “there is a problem; we’ll contact you within the next glacial epoch and get an engineer out to you.”

So, I’m waiting. But while I am, I’ve been pondering SBC’s customer service system. Why does its IVR demand data from you before you can get access to anyone, but then fail to transfer that data with your call?

It’s not just SBC that fails in this area; it is a common issue with companies. Ask a CS representative — should you be lucky enough to get a warm body on the line — whether he can pass a comment along to management. Most CS reps will tell you they never actually get to see management.

It seems all that customer intelligence just doesn’t matter to the guy in the carpeted office. By simply talking to the people in your organization who interact with customers, you can find out, cheaply, how to improve service to your market.

And I wonder if SBC’s senior management has ever had to call in and use their own IVR service. You’d think they might do something about it. But then, they also don’t talk to their CS reps.

If you’re in management and you haven’t tried it, talk to your CS reps about your customers. It will be some of the most profitable discussion you can have. That is, if you can get through your own IVR system.

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–To send a message to me, please now. Have a nice day.