Advertising On Hold

I have a modest proposal for the CEOs of all companies who use an automated voice response system to answer their inbound calls: Once a month, try calling your main 800 number, aiming to solve a problem, order a product, or reach an operator.

I say this not because I'm trying to inflict pain. Very much the opposite. I suspect we all understand how decisions get made in complex corporations, and that undoing them can be very hard.

Let me give an example: CVS. If you need to check to see if a prescription is ready, you dial an 800 number. Immediately you're asked a series of questions: Are you calling from a doctor's office, do you want us to continue in English or Spanish -- and are you trying to get any information about the COVID vaccine? Now I understand that for many months the workers at CVS have been overwhelmed by callers asking about the vaccine, when it would be available and how they could get it. So CVS built a digital phone moat, and you slog your way through the various warnings, offers of URLs, and assurances that people in the stores have no answers.



There's plenty of vaccines now, and no one is calling to ask anyway. But there is no plan at CVS to take away the moat, and so slog we must. Finally, you get to a human who says no, the prescription is not ready yet, never mind that you'd gotten a text saying it was. Can you call him tomorrow and go through the whole series of gates again? Sure.

Of course, CVS is not alone. Every time you go on YouTube, it pushes you an offer to sign up for seven days of free YouTube TV. There's no way to reject the offer, and so the urgent marketing message arrives over and over again. The only way I can figure out to stop the marketing is to subscribe.

Then there is Spectrum.  If you call its support line, you are offered the opportunity to sign up for voice login. Then, in the next part of the decision tree, they offer you Spectrum Mobile. But even if you're not interested in voice login or Spectrum Mobile, you receive these messages every time you call. If you're trying to solve a tech problem, that could be a number of calls, which means you're now hearing the same marketing messages on a loop over and over again as your wait on hold.

Finally, there is the request before you have a service call that you answer a brief survey after the service call. If you say no, which I always do, you will often get a call, email and text requesting that you answer a brief survey.

The customer service questionnaire follow-up is particularly objectionable because they are being used to rank and filter employees. Certainly, from time to time, a great experience will encourage you to answer the questions and give positive feedback. Usually, though, people who fill out customer experience surveys want to vent. So unfortunate employees who have to represent their company's consumer experience are the beneficiary of negative reviews. Totally unfair.

I understand why companies think consumers who are waiting on hold are ideal targets for marketing messages, upgrade offers, and links to support services. But it's important to remember that we are essentially being held hostage, waiting for 10-20 minutes "due to unusual call volume,” and the loop of hearing the same marketing message 15 or 20 times can only put customers in a frustrated and angry mood even before they get on the phone with your customer service representative. I suspect the result is fewer satisfactory customer experiences, and more conflict and unnecessary hostility. Bad for your employees, bad for the brand and the customer experience.

So beyond testing the customer experience by calling in, I have one other suggestion: Add a squib of code to the phone tree operations, and after a customer has heard the marketing and support messages once, don't play them again. It's not hard to do. Playing the same message 15 or 20 times is going to have diminished results.  

I get the appeal of the marketing department having access to your customer queue, but maybe you should consider how useful a quiet music track might be?

1 comment about "Advertising On Hold".
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  1. Leslie Laredo from The Laredo Group, May 10, 2021 at 8:15 p.m.

    I wish the CEO and CMO from TruGreen would call their customer 800 number. After an annoying round of questions that don't easily match my simple "need to change a service date," I get a "your call will be answered in 4 hours" with a suggestion to use their app. The app lets me know that I am in the queue behind 160 others. I've had this experience multiple times...I'm so ready to cancel my service and wonder how fast this call will be answered!

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