Doesn’t anyone answer their phone anymore?

So let me get this out of the way. I’m not talking about our personal cell phone habits. I’ll save that for another day. Today I want to address business phones. Is it just me or have things changed to the point to where it’s 50/50 as to whether or not the person you are calling at work is going to answer their phone?

Let’s break it down. Here’s the 1-2-3 of bad business phone habits:

1. The guy in his office

While you’re reading this, somewhere there’s a guy in his office who’s letting the phone ring right in front of him choosing instead to let voice mail pick it up. I get it; sometimes we are in the middle of something important and prefer not to break the flow and take a phone call. Emphasis here should be on ‘sometimes.’ That should be the exception and not the rule. Businesses run on people having conversations about – well – business. And those conversations are delayed while the caller’s voice mail sits there. Then, when the eventual call-back occurs, is it not likely the caller will encounter the same thing on the other end? Ring, no answer, voice mail, etc. Here’s an idea: why not ask the administrative assistant to pick up those calls? Remember when that used to happen? Or, if the job does not come with an AA, let’s have the phone programmed to ‘roll-over’ to a live person – such as the central switchboard operator. That way, humans talk to humans and things can get done. Better yet, let’s answer the phone when it rings America.

2. The small business switchboard

I called my dentist office the other day. Their office is located about a mile from my home. After many rings the call was taken by a Call Center in The Philippines. I’m not kidding. They then told me they’d take my name, number and my message and enter a ticket that will get sent to my dentist office staff and I’d get a response in the next 24 hours. Are you kidding? Guess what? I never got that return call. This happened 2X. I finally drove into the office and questioned the office staff as to what happened. They blamed it on the Call Center saying often their messages don’t get received. As if that’s supposed to excuse everything. In the end the customer was wronged regardless of how it happened. Are businesses getting too cute when they install these elaborate systems to ‘work around’ the central obligation of answering their phones? I think so.

3. The big corporate auto attendant

Call most any bank, credit card company, airline, cable company, cell phone carrier, tech company, government agency and you get the recorded auto attendant that wants to handle your call. If I were king I’d ban all of those and make it a requirement that all calls get answered by a human being. That said, I understand the need for auto attendants given call volume, staff payroll costs, etc. The real problem isn’t that there’s an auto attendant answering your call. The problem is the way in which these systems are programmed. Somewhere along the line the customer service people are talked into accepting a system that relentlessly asks an endless number of qualifying questions before you can finally get to a human being. One can easily spend 2-3 minutes pushing buttons in answer to needless questions before being connected to someone. And this over-qualifying occurs so that someone in the IT department can run a report that breaks down caller profiles and a host of other analytics. Is all that worth it? No way I say. Just answer my call and let’s get on to conducting business. The icing on the cake was a call I recently made to a large tech company’s help desk. After a couple of minutes of entering in a host of responses (press 1 for this, 2 for that’ and so on) the auto attendant actually said: “I’m sorry, the reason for your call is not supported by our tech support team. Hang up and go to our website at www…….” And then the auto attendant hung up on me. Ouch.

Let’s think about getting back to service. Quality customer service is central to getting and keeping customers. Take a look at your firm’s telephone habits and make some noise if you believe that common sense has given way to cumbersome tech solutions that simply don’t get the job done.

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