Unhelpful Helplines

The growth of technology, online accounts and e-commerce have forced us all to use help lines. On the plus side you get to speak to someone without having to travel to see them in a shop or office. On the negative side you never get to see the whites of their eyes.

The wretched start of the process is the multi choice advice at the start of the call. For ‘this’ press 1 for ‘that’ press 2 for the ‘other’ press 3. “We’re very busy at the moment but your call is important please hang on”. A great start as you, who are assumed are not that busy as you’ve had time to make the call, listen to the on hold music interrupted by having to listen adverts – possibly the reason why you are on hold.

You hang on hoping that the 1, 2, or 3 choice was correct and you won’t be faced with the phone being answered by someone saying you came through on the wrong line, and you are transferred to the back of the right queue.

Contract renewals are probably the bulk of the calls. You have the cheek to query the renewal cost. And this is where technology bites the call centre on the bottom. I recall a sales fundamental known was customer relationship management. CRM. One of the basic principles was the rule ‘the retention of one existing customer is worth 10 new ones’. In great swathes of companies this rule is ignored, replaced by spreadsheets showing just how many new customers they have gained!

The existing customers have just been told their premium is going up. A quick search through comparison sites reveal you are much better off being a new customer. The help line explains that your loyalty is valued but they prefer new customers to meet their targets. And you’re gone, preferring all the hassle of new accounts, direct debits, passwords and login details to the feeling you are being gently screwed.

The massive and basically sapping exercise of finding alternatives begins. Change your energy supplier every year. Use comparison sites to check all insurance policies, buy single tickets between stations en route to save over a return fare. All are technologically fuelled, all fighting the status quo. And the end result, a hefty commission paid to the comparison site, thank you very much.

Maybe we will continue to get more edgy about the remoteness of call centres, and I don’t mean those in India where “your call is important to us, that’s why we have moved the call centre overseas to increase profits”. The interaction with another human where you can actually interact is worth 10 call centres. But there is a cost and balance between the concept of CRM and the quest of profit growth over customer retention. The first guys to crack this code and introduce the solution could create a tsunami in the market that will be equivalent of the digital disruptors. We wait with bated breath.

Alistair Owens

The meandering thoughts of someone with too much time on his hands. Tending to see the obscure and irrelevant in most events I have been forced to record this by family members as a means of diverting attention away from them. But I see their plan.

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