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Have you ever shouted into your phone "Operator! I need the operator. Just put me through to the operator!"
That's probably because we all have said that. At top volume. Along with some other words not fit for print.
That's because voice recognition systems at most companies can be labyrinthine to navigate and frustrating to deal with when all you want is a little customer support in the form of a human. But hearing that civilized, pre-programmed voice on the other end saying, "I think you said, 'I don't have it'" when you are trying to say in as polite a voice as possible, "Representative, please" can be mighty aggravating.
However, with a little inside insight, the experience doesn't have to be frustrating. We spoke to experts who offered tips on how to reach a live agent, when you need to, and how to get the best customer service.
There are many options for customer service today. Younger customers, for instance, would often rather handle a problem or question via a web chat, instant message or email, says Oscar Alban, a former call center agent who now works with Witness Systems, a designer of call center workforce optimization software. "We are going through this interesting change. Companies have to be ready to service all of them and they are going to have this combination of people for a long time...it could be more efficient to have you not reach a person. If it's done right, it can be more efficient for the customers."
But sometimes voice recognition systems can induce frustration in consumers. "A lot of times these systems are designed from the inside out and they aren't taking into consideration the customers," says Oscar Alban, a former call center agent who now works with Witness Systems, a designer of call center workforce optimization software. His years in the field have made him an expert in how to effectively navigate customer service systems.
Tricks of the Trade
If you want to reach a person, but that's not listed as an option, there are a few tricks you can try:
Press "# zero" or "# zero, zero," Alban says. "It's a way to exit out of the system." Another option is to do nothing and hold on the line. In some cases, you'll be automatically sent to a person.
If you're feeling particularly clever, try the bilingual back door. Companies often provide the option to speak to someone in Spanish. Choose that option because the agents must also speak English. "They're not usually as busy and you can get through quickly," Alban says.
There are other strategies too. Often if you are a higher level customer, like a platinum member, you don't need to use the standard customer service number. Avail yourself of any special numbers your status as a frequent flyer or buyer might accord you.
You can opt for web chat too. Many companies offer that option on their web sites allowing you to connect with an agent via live chat.
If you are on hold on the telephone, be sure to listen to all the choices the company offers alternatives to get in touch. "I would say 75 percent of my calls are for quick information pieces, where I don't necessarily need to talk to someone and it's faster not to," Alban says.
Finally, remember it's easier to catch flies with sugar than vinegar. Complicated voice recognition systems can create a lot of angry customers, who want to blow off steam when they finally reach a person. "The secret is not to do that," he says. "The fastest way to getting your situation resolved is get to an agent and calmly say, 'This is Oscar and I need your help.' It is amazing how their defenses go down and they are willing to do something for you."
Plan Before you Call
Be sure to get your ducks in a row before a call. Here are some tips from Julie Casteel, chief global sales and marketing officer with ClientLogic, a business process outsourcing provider.
Have all of your personal information readily available before you call customer service, such as date of purchase, and make, model number or serial number to expedite the first part of the call.
Check and see if the answer you are seeking is in any of your product documentation. You may not actually need to call. If you do, be sure to clearly articulate the reason for your call at the start of the call.
You may need to provide your catalog or account number. This could lead to better service or bigger discounts. "Many companies today use 'customer segmentation' to reward their loyal, high-volume customers. For example, a consumer who is a platinum credit card holder vs. a silver card holder will likely be entitled to better service or other perks," Casteel says.
Remember to interact and ask questions. Agents are incented to resolve issues on the first call, so asking questions will help you get the problem resolved. Work with the agent to solve the problem.
And if all this doesn't work feel free to shout "operator" at the top of your lungs. Preferably when you are off the phone.
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