With customer service, it turns out your call is not important after all

with customer service
Image by StudioRomantic | Bigstockphoto

With customer service, the trend is to automate and digitise anything that moves. What companies who are toying with automation need to assess is the negative impact on the customer experience.

Here’s why.

A few days ago, I received a text from my mobile operator telling me that a colleague’s contract was coming to an end and would I phone in to renew or listen to options. I wanted to renew and was happy with the contract, but I still waited a few days, feeling that I needed to have an hour free to go through the inevitable mind-numbing process.

What should have taken five minutes took just over two hours.

“Hello, I would like to renew the contract.”

“Of course, two quick security questions and I’ll get that done for you.”

That conversation did not happen because I was not able to talk to a human.

With customer service nowadays, you can’t let a human handle it. I waited for the option to speak to someone, none came.

“Please say in a few words what you would like to talk to us about.”


“I’m sorry, I did not catch that. Please say in a few words what you would like to talk to us about.”

“Renew contract.”

“You would like to upgrade, I will set up a chat with a customer advisor.”

“No. Contract.”

A text came through asking me to click a link so that I could chat with customer service.

Then came the chat and the security questions and a repeat of which number I was talking about.

This section of the two-hour ordeal took 20 minutes, and it was spent persuading the ‘person’ that I did not want an upgrade. Finally, she told me to be patient, and she would transfer me to someone who could help but don’t worry, all the details are in the notes; it will take no time at all.

It took about an hour and a half – to renew a SIM-only contract.

We went through the security questions. Twice.

We went through the handset I was talking about. Three times.

I nearly told him to shove it. Four times.

The length of time between me answering a question and him responding was consistently five minutes. At one (or three) points, I asked him whether he was still there. At one point, he even admitted to having to manage another chat at the same time. We, of course, know that with customer service chat nowadays, that is frog snot, and he was dealing with at least 12 customers.

And on it went.

“I’m asking my manger [sic] for advice.”

“I’m editing the Ts and Cs.”

“it isn’t as easy as you think.”

Frog snot.

Finally, it was done. And they sent the confirmation to the wrong mobile. Obviously.

“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“Yes, how can I get a transcript of this chat?”

“When you click on the cross, top right, at the end of the chat, it will give you the option to enter an email address.”

I didn’t. It deleted the whole sorry story. I wanted the transcript to send to the chairman of the company.

And for the first time ever, there was no text asking me to rate my experience with the team. Funny that.

The message: blind automation will almost always lead to a worse customer experience with customer service or any other customer-facing operation. And you will lose customers.

Top tip: a friend who has suffered similar incomprehensible nonsense says that he simply says ‘complaint’ or ‘leaving your service’ and suddenly, miraculously, he is talking to a real live, actual human being.

Related article: Customer service may be difficult to get right, but why is it still so bad?

Companies in APAC risk falling behind in digital customer service needs

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