How Not To Handle A Customer Service Call

I awoke this morning to a few inches of snow on the ground. Nothing unusual here in Colorado, but as it so happened the snow must have caused some problems in my internet connection. My DSL from Qwest wasn’t working. Things happen and I didn’t worry about it right away while I made some coffee. It eventually led me to a what turned out to be a rather useless customer service call.

Like I said, at first I didn’t worry, but an hour later, a cup of coffee, and a few manual restarts of my dsl box without success and I was ready to give Qwest a call to find out what was happening and hopefully correct the problem so I could read whatever email was waiting for me and start my work day. The phone call was a good example of what not to do when handling a customer service call and I though I’d share.

Naturally my call was sent to one of those automated call handlers. Unlike the usual menu of options that would lead me to tech support this system provided no menu. Instead I was greeted by a recorded voice asking me if the number I had called from was my number. The voice was pleasant enough, which I assume was to make me believe the call was more personal. It didn’t. instead of giving me options the voice required me to answer questions so it could decide where to direct my call.

Unfortunately for me, the questions did nothing to direct my call anywhere. The questions weren’t designed for someone who knew where they need to be directed, but more for someone who had no idea who to talk to. The questions really had nothing to do with my issue and I felt as though it would take all day to get anywhere. From the moment the system answered the call it caused frustration for me. Pity the poor person who eventually would have to talk to me.

Even when I answered to one question that I needed tech support I was asked more questions and was told that it sounded like my issue would best be dealt with some other department. After being asked again if I wanted tech support I cursed out the recorded voice and repeatedly pressed 0 on my phone in the hopes of getting an operator.

It took until the now very annoying voice was finished with it’s latest question or suggestion (In all honesty I was no longer listening to that voice any longer) before my call was switched to a line that was supposed to take me to an operator. Of course that simply meant I was placed on hold. After another recording told me how important my call was to Qwest the system hung up on me.

As luck would have it, my dsl connection had started working so there was no need to call back, but this call has become yet another reason for me to switch service providers. Believe me there are many reasons not to use Qwest.

What Made the Service Call Poor And What Should Qwest Have Done

What Qwest did wrong?

  • They provided no options to get to where I knew where I wanted to go.
  • They forced me to respond to questions that offered no help or took me any closer to where I wanted to go.
  • They played an obviously insincere message to me about how important they think I am.
  • They hung up on me before I had ever gotten through to anyone or any useful information.

What could they have done to make my customer service experience better?

  • Since I knew where I wanted to be directed they should have provided me with a menu of options to not require me to have to answer their questions. They should have provided a menu of options regardless of whether or not I knew who I wanted to talk to. The automated question and answer voice could have been an option for anyone who wasn’t sure who they should be speaking to.
  • They could have and should have provided an option immediately for me to speak to a real person instead of the automated system.
  • They could be sincere in their messages. Instead of telling me how important my call is, tell me how long they anticipate the wait will be or how many calls are ahead of mine. Even better, hire more people to answer the calls. Their insincerity was obvious and had the opposite effect than what Qwest would hope. I don’t see them as caring about me at all.
  • They should have completed my call without hanging up on me.

In the end Qwest not only didn’t answer any of my questions or help in any way, they simply hung up on me. Had I needed to call back I would have had to deal with the same annoying and unhelpful questions and answers directing me nowhere. They showed clearly as they usually do that they are not concerned with me or the issues that led me to call them. If you can believe it they’ve directed me in the past to find an answer on their website even when my issue was that I couldn’t connect to the internet.

What Qwest should have done was direct me as fast as possible to the department that could best respond to my needs. While I don’t care for the usual automated phone systems at least the push button response to a menu would have me getting closer to who I wanted to speak to and even provide the illusion that I was indeed doing something other than being kept on hold. And one of the menu items should always be the option to connect to a real live person.

If The Call Was A Website

If that customer service call had been a website, the automated question and answer would be like requiring you to fill out form after form as navigation. It might have been thought up as a helpful well to help me find my way, but we don’t always need to find our way. Sometimes we know where we want to go and sometimes we just want to explore on our own. How many pages of a website would you visit if you needed to fill out a form to get to them?

The insincere message is similar telling someone how much you’ll protect their information and then not provide a secure connection for them when you ask for their credit card. It’s telling your visitors that you value their privacy as you sell their email address to the highest bidder. And the system hanging up is like having your page or site crash when someone requests a page.

You wouldn’t expect a site like that to convert many visitors into customers. A poor customer service call fails to convert a customer into a loyal customer. My dsl will still be provided by Qwest tomorrow, but unless they dramatically improve their service and support I’m not likely to stay with them as my service provider.

What Qwest failed to recognize is that the only way to have quality customer service is to practice quality customer service. It doesn’t matter how much you tell me my call is important if you don’t ever answer it. It obviously wasn’t important to the company.

In all fairness to Qwest there are probably some people who would find such a question and answer system helpful. Still it could easily have been an option at the initial menu instead of the initial menu. I have also been hung up on by other companies. I swear it has nothing to do with me as I really am nice to customer service representatives. I do know systems have problems sometimes, but getting hung up on is never something good. It’s also not the first time I’ve heard that message about how important I am. Of course the number of times I’ve heard it helps to make it so insincere. At just about every point in that call my experience could have been better and every part of improving that experience was something Qwest has control over. I’ll give them the hanging up thing. Maybe they just sensed my frustration and figured it was the best option.

Customer service is vital to any business. It’s is much less expensive to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. With just a little concern for my call Qwest could have kept me happy and loyal. A good customer service experience can even keep help turn an irate customer into a loyal one. Loyal customers recommend your business, lowering the cost of customer acquisition. Instead Qwest has let me know when I’m having trouble with their service I can expect no help from them. They have not made me a loyal customer. I am less likely to call and tie up their phone lines, but I am also less likely to remain a customer.

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  1. Hey, a video of you listening to the recording might make some rounds on YouTube and get dugg =)

    They might even improve the usability of their “helping” system, if this one gets noticed.

    Overall, I don’t think I’d be that patient. Our local ISP is nice and I always get a call in (the ISP handles about 7-8k of clients in a small town).

  2. I was confused by this blog. So, I called the DSL repair number (800 247-7285) that came with my DSL welcome package and that IVR is not even on a speech, it is all touchtone options. Hmm, So I think perhaps this gentleman call the listed number for the SALES department so I called that number. Sure enough they do have speech. Well even though this is a wrong number for DSL, I was curious if they will still route to repair. When prompted for what I wanted I stated “repair”, it then asked which department and I stated “High Speed Internet” I was transferred to what sounded like the DSL repair IVR (complete with touch tone options instead of speech) that I went to when I called the correct number earlier. I will add that I too really dislike speech platforms and think we could do a huge blog on the negatives of speech IVR’s. However, I think 99% of the time simple logic will get you where you want to go. Now a company could hire a couple thousand more agents it would take to handle their customer base and we can all speak to a live person from the start.. but not all of us can afford to pay the extra costs for this type of personal service. Would you not have Qwest point out that they have help on their webite? I think the average Joe would understand that the help site is also for trouble you experience when you are on line, not just when you have trouble connecting. As far as Qwest telling you how long the wait is or how many people are in front of you waiting, how could they, until you had selected which department you wanted? I doubt that all departments have the same wait times. I worked for Directv in customer service for a short time and found calls could be routed to many different locations. Again, I agree with your assesment on Speech, I cringe whenever I hear a speech intro with any company I call. Constantly I repeat myself and get frustrated. I think it is something that Corporate buyers are “sold” on that is really a step backwords with customer service. Hopefully Qwest realizes this and that is why they are not on speech on their other numbers. However, in this Blog it appears most of the trouble was operator error, starting with calling the wrong number for the HSI repair group. I took interest in this blog for 2 reasons. I hate speech and like the service I received from Qwest.

  3. Jason you are right that it was the billing department number I called. It was the first number I saw on my bill which happened to be near me and I think it was the only number I saw listed. If there were other numbers on the bill that I missed I do apologize, but I think most people will generally call the first number they find for a company and in truth any number to a company the size of Qwest should allow you to get to other departments easily.

    I’m sure had I chosen the right words I might have been able to get to the right department faster, but in fairness as a Qwest employee you have a little more insight into what words to use. I think asking for tech support should have worked. I also was not in need of a repair, which to me would mean there was an issue with equipment in my home. The issue here was on the Qwest side of things. I disagree about the simple logic statement since I am a rather logical person. More so that most people who will probably call. It is also important to remember that when someone is calling a company about a problem the emotional side of things will naturally come to the forefront. Having to deal with an automated system only exascerbates that.

    I agree with you completely about pointing out there is information on a webiste. I think all companies should provide as much information as possible online since it can reduce calls for the company and help people find things faster. My objection is when the issue involves not being able to connect to the web. There have been times when I’ve had an issue with connectivity and both the automated system and the person I finally spoke to recommended I find my solution online. Yes let me know there’s a possible answer online, but also make sure there are other alternatives.

    True enough I need to be connected to the right department before you can tell me how many others are in front of my call. I didn’t say that message should have been there when I first called, but if you’re playing a hold message for me then I am in a queue at that point and you can provide the wait time for getting through to that specific part of the system. I might still have to wait for another department, but if you’ve put me on hold that information is available and is much better that telling me the call is important.

    In all fairness Qwest is not the only company to use the ‘your call is important to us’ line on a hold message. If I’ve singled you out it was only because I happened to call Qwest on that particular day. And in all fairness to Qwest there are many companies who have similar automated systems. I still stand by everything I said above though in that there are better ways to have hanfled the call.

    And I don’t think it’s fair to blame me for the call. I’m not someone who lacks understanding of how technology works. I’m pretty good at finding my way through an automated system. Yes I could have called a different number, but like I said the majority of people are going to call the first number they find for a company and figure they can get to the right department once online. And if there was a better menu system on the Qwest side that would have been trivial. And customer service is in part about anticipating the needs of your customers. Even if I could have called a better number the fact that I didn’t likely means many others won’t either.

    I do appreciate your views on the matter. It probably isn’t fair to me to single out Qwest for poor customer service. It just happened that I called Qwest on this particular day.

    I do think you need to add a 3rd reason for replying here in that you are a Qwest employee and are doing a bit of damage control.

  4. I’ll agree with Steve here.

    You see, Jason, how can a person find the right number without having an online access? No e-mail to check the invoices, no access to your website. So it’d be natural to expect someone to use the first number to deal on.

    Secondly, people only need help when something doesn’t work. Make everything stable and reliable and you will reduce customer support costs.

    Same goes for the website help.

    Thirdly, expecting someone else knowing the inside system as well as you is a bit of an utopia. However, if you do research how your customers think, what words they use, you might structure your system to work for the people.

    Can’t make it work for all people, though.

    Fourthly, blaming a customer is a sure way to end up getting a refund. I have worked in support for a half a year, was replying to 30-60 e-mails a day and only got about 4-5 refunds on a popular product.

    The only way you get up a company evangelist is to accept you are right, fix the issue and make sure it never happens again. If I were you, I’d be sending free Christmas and the New Year gifts/bonuses/discounts to Steve (and other customers, who were unable to use your service for a prolonged period of time) – after fixing the issue (which is fixed now, I suspect).

    Yes, let’s not forget that any huge company has issues with customer support. Take a look at Dell – it had some issues and now tries to earn peoples’ trust.

    Jason, thank you for stopping by. It helps to know you are at least noticed.

  5. Thanks Yuri. One thing I do want to make clear is this post wasn’t meant to be an indictment of Qwest and I apoligize if it’s come across that way. My phone service has always been with Qwest since I’ve moved to Colorado and I’ve never had any complaints with the service. I wish I didn’t get a bill each month, but I can’t exactly fault Qwest for that.

    Qwest has done things over the time I’ve been wth them that I’ve not been happy about, but not really any more or less than most other large companies I’ve dealt with.

    My point in this post was simply to show how a call to an automated system didn’t work well and could and should be improved. It just so happened that the call that inspired this post was to Qwest, but it could have been to any number of companies who probably do the same things with their automated systems.

    I will say Qwest has often come up at the bottom of many ISP related surveys, much lower than they should given the size of the company and that I have had other dealings with them where the message they sent me was very insincere or put the responsibilty for something on their customers when it belonged on the compnay.

    I’ve also had many useful customer service calls with Qwest employees. I’ve generally found them to be friendly and helpful. But I do think they as many other companies can stand to improve their approach to customer service.

  6. Now re-reading my comment it seems like I am bashing at Jason. Not quite so. Just suggesting ways to improve the company. By any means, keep providing quality service to your customers :)

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