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It's About Time: You Don't Have Any and Big Business Counts on It

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Have you ever called a major corporation's 800 number only to be trapped in a maze of automated questions that have to be answered all over again if you ever actually reach a real person? Of course you have and you didn't like it at all. However, as much as you don't like that experience, corporations know that you like listening to hold music even less.

Studies indicate that customers who are on hold listening to music have a distorted perception of time that makes them believe they are waiting longer than they actually are. The longer a customer believes they are on hold, the more agitated they become when the representative finally answers the phone. To change this perception companies give callers "busy" work to keep them occupied to reduce the perceived amount of elapsed time. They do not want the caller to notice that they do not keep a compliment of representatives large enough to cut down the hold time to something most callers would consider reasonable. It's not an accident. It's economics and it's a science.

The ruse with the automated phone system appears to be rooted in meeting the customer's perceived needs. Actually, this is an attempt to keep the customer from exceeding a threshold of frustration which is not equivalent to customer satisfaction although companies would like customers to think it is. These customer service programs were popularized in the 80's and is now so pervasive across a multitude of industries that Citi now offers the ability to escape the automated phone maze as a benefit of being their customer. This practice is the tip of an iceberg.

The iceberg is the noxious practice of corporations using a consumer's lack of time during business hours against them. The level of management that is capable of resolving customer issues that cannot be satisfactorily resolved by phone representatives typically are staffed during standard business hours. This level of management is also insulated by redundant layers of virtually impotent staff and tedious and time-ravaging protocol.

It is a popular practice to advertise company mission statements that emphasize a commitment to customer satisfaction e.g. "Quality is job one," "We try harder," and "Hassle free guarantee." To be sure, there are some companies for which these words having real meaning but for an alarming and growing number of companies this is empty rhetoric.

Popular computer manufacturer, Dell, recently reported record revenues of $15.2 billion dollars. Dell says,

"We have built processes around how we put into action the values and beliefs communicated by The Soul of Dell. Our accountability, environment and community programs help ensure that we operate in a manner consistent with our core values as we grow our business globally."

One has to ask whether they invest as much into execution of the meaning of that statement as they did into crafting it. Thomas Rimstidt, of Nineveh, Indiana, would characterize "the soul of dell" as a creature as mythical as a unicorn. He went online and constructed a personal computer in Dell's shopping cart, secured financing with their convenient online approval process and without finalizing the sale stopped to call their customer service number with a question.

Mr. Rimstidt is employed by one of the many employers who offer special discounts with Dell as an employee benefit. This benefit does not apply to Dell's entire inventory and he wanted to clarify the computer in the shopping cart would qualify. It did not. The representative offered Mr. Rimstidt several incentives to complete the transaction that he declined. 5 days later, a quarter mile up the dirt road from his house, abandoned off to the side, were 2 packages left by UPS containing the computer system he declined to buy. 6 emails, 44 phone calls, 2 weeks of consumed lunch hours and one missed day of work later, he is still attempting to return this computer system. He has yet to successfully pierce the management veil. That is not an accident. That is by design; it's a nefarious art form.

Consumers over-wrought with the demands on their time from their employers and their lives must too frequently pay a high opportunity cost to attain the quality and service that is promised to them by companies. Businesses know that when consumers are faced with a maze of ineffective solutions they are likely to give up and accept the unacceptable. It is the relatively rare customer that has the impetus to defend themselves against goliath institutions designed to wear them down and compel them to surrender to the ridiculous.

In short, (I know, it's a little late for that) we applaud Thomas Rimstidt and everyone like him that refuses to go quietly into the night. We encourage everyone to put the goliaths in your life on notice and be heard. Use your money and persistence to over throw their oppressive intentions. You deserve better and if you don't make it happen, it won't happen at all. It's not an accident; it's the bottom line.

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