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About NRG Communications

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Santa Cruz, California, United States
I am the founder of NRG Communications, and have been working with Customer Service Reps and Leaders since 1989. My training organization, NRG Communications, caters to helping CSR's find ways to dealing with the Toughest of Tough Customers and for creating a positive customer experience. Check out www.nr4g.com for more information.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Finding that Human Touch with Customer Service Representatives

Are you worn out with having to deal with automated customer service?  Have you had your fill of pressing buttons only to find your question doesn't get answered?  If so, this article entitled Where Have All the Customer Service Representatives Gone? from the Chicago Tribune by Problem Solvers Kristin Samuelson and Jon Yates may be of service.  It offers some tips on how to get a live human.

It was Saturday afternoon when the Problem Solver opened his phone bill and discovered a minor billing error.

No problem, he thought. He’ll just call the phone company and clear things up.

Silly him.

After dialing the toll-free customer service number, it took him 12 key prompts just to get to a computerized voice that allowed him to scream into the phone a verbal command: “CUSTOMER SERVICE AGENT.”

Of course, by then it was past 4 p.m. and all the customer service agents had left the call center.

“Sorry,” the computer told the Problem Solver. “This office is currently closed.”

It took considerable restraint not to slam the phone against his kitchen wall, but after a few moments, his calm returned.

The reality is, getting through to an actual person at many companies’ customer service departments can be a little like discovering the lock combination to a bank vault. Hit the right numbers, and the world is your oyster.

Thankfully, there are ways to game the system.

Websites like GetHuman.com and DialAHuman.com list hundreds of companies along with their phone numbers and instructions on which phone prompts to punch to more quickly get to a human being.

GetHuman.com, the more elaborate of the two sites, lists multiple phone numbers for many of the largest companies, and includes average wait times on hold, along with user ratings — from “horrible” to “good.”

Roland Via, the former mayor of Holly Hills, Fla., started DialAHuman.com five years ago in a fit of aggravation after calling several companies and having trouble reaching a living, breathing person.

“Time, to me, is valuable,” he said.

Wading through the dial prompts just to get patched through to a recorded message is a terrible waste, Via said.

Both GetHuman.com and DialAHuman.com are monitored by actual callers, who contribute tips on how they got through to a human being, along with warnings about particularly bad phone numbers or uncaring companies.

“Sometimes the companies find out (about a number being on the site) and then they’ll change the mechanics of the number,” Via said. “The viewers of the website will let me know.”

While each automated phone system is designed differently, Via and Walt Tetschner, GetHuman.com’s founder, said there are tricks that often work across all systems.

If you’re dialing in circles and can’t break through the computerized system, try playing dead. Many automated systems rely on input, so if you don’t punch a key, they get confused and transfer you to an operator. Some systems also include a default for folks who still have old rotary-dial phones. After a certain length of silence, the call is automatically transferred to an operator.

If waiting doesn’t work — and the system accepts voice prompts — try speaking complete nonsense. Blather on in words the system can’t identify and it might just think you’re crazy. Turns out, most automated systems can’t handle crazy, and many of them will forward you directly to an operator.

If neither playing dead nor speaking gobbledygook work, try the most obvious move: hit zero. Some systems use another number, like 2 or 6, so try all 10.

You can also do an end-around and avoid the automated system altogether. To do so, search for the company’s corporate headquarters, then find a number for the main offices. By avoiding a call center, you often can reach an actual employee. Even if that person is not qualified to help you, often they will patch you through to a customer service agent, if for no other reason than to get you off the phone.

Once you do reach an actual person, ask him or her for a direct line to get back in touch. Getting a direct-dial phone number is worth its weight in gold, allowing you to avoid the endless prompts and automated directions.

“I do believe, nowadays, people want personalized service,” Via said.

Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s up to you to find it.


KAL said...

It is extremely unfortunate that manay companies, and usually the larger ones, abuse the "automated" systems and have strayed from the fundamentals of customer serivce...

I believe it's not about how great their product or services are, as presumably they are where they are because of that great service or product, yet what seperates good companies from great companies is how they treat the UNhappy customer. Do they just brush them under the rug and push them through a never-ending maze of "automated" phone trees or do they te pride in handling their unhappy customers and turning them into happy ones! Typically the most referrals will come from a formerly unhappy customer that was treated with respect and had their wrong fixed or at the very least, ackowledged and not thrown aside.

Judge a company by their ability to handle the unhappy customer not their ability to make happy ones!


Kenda Swartz Pepper said...

Thanks for the insightful comment, KL! I'm in total agreement with you on all points. And yes, a company's character could be easily judged by how well they handle the unhappy customers.