Yesterday I needed to get a simple piece of information from a utility company of which I am a customer. To get this I needed to call them, and so my first major problem was to find a telephone number. The company helpfully has a ‘Contact us’ section on their website, which gives all kind of information about them, except how to contact them by phone. Yes, there is an online form with which you can send them a message. Yes, there is a link to a page where they answer 25 possible questions you may want to ask them; but no sign of a telephone number. Eventually, after about 20 minutes of surfing, I found a phone number under the heading ‘corporate information’.
Well, I discovered that my telephone call is important to them. I know that because, when I stopped counting, I had heard a voice recording say this to me 24 times. But I am running ahead a little, so let me go back. I called the number, and as is now the custom, a voice welcomed me to their telephone enquiry empire, assured me what a valued person I am, and then asked me to choose between six different options by pressing a number on my telephone keypad, or pressing ‘star’ if I wanted to hear it all over again. Of the six options, four would lead me to recorded messages on various topics, one would let me use an automated payment system, and the sixth would allow me to ‘speak to one of our customer care representatives’. So I pressed ’6′.
‘Your telephone call is important to us. So that we can help you more effectively, I would ask you to choose between the following four options’. One of these, I discovered, was simply to return me to the previous six options; the second got me a recorded message that was of no relevance to me; the third was advertised as advice for customers, but as far as I could tell got me nothing more useful than some recorded music on a loop, interrupted every 30 seconds or so by the assurance that my call was important to them. I had stupidly neglected to find out what the fourth option was. Not knowing how to reverse out of option three, all that was left to me was to start again.
So, back to the journey through the options jungle, until I was able to focus on the final option 4, which actually promised me access to one of their famous customer care representatives. Of course, all their customer care representatives were engaged (probably they were all busy recording messages assuring customers how important their calls are), and I was thanked for my patience, and offered the traditional reassurance about my overriding importance to them. Then, after some considerable time, suddenly a different voice told me that my call could be recorded for training and quality assurance purposes. And after that, one of the actual representatives was on the line, taking a break from recording automated messages.
Honestly, is this really an efficient way of dealing with customers? Is it really cheaper and more effective? On another call to a company recently I was gently told by the representative that I had chosen the wrong option for my particular question, only to find that when I called again and chose the ‘correct’ option that I was speaking to exactly the same representative again. Is this all some convoluted game?
If companies really do need to organise calls so that they follow the appropriate channels, would it not make sense simply to offer different numbers for different issues, but without all the automated messages, obscure options, musical interludes and recorded assurances? Is it maybe time to stop annoying customers?
By the way, if you want to contact me in response to this post, please fill in the form on the top right of the screen, or call my lawyers whose name is mentioned in the 132nd post published here. Your calls may be recorded.