Magazine article American Banker

Viewpoint: Martin on Retailing - for an Area You Can Improve, Please Press 1

Magazine article American Banker

Viewpoint: Martin on Retailing - for an Area You Can Improve, Please Press 1

Article excerpt

When a current or prospective customer phones your business, what are the odds that good will is being created?

The topic is fresh in my mind after calling the "customer service" line of my Internet and phone service provider about a recent outage. I had to use my cell phone to call and navigate their automated phone maze. I was eventually put "on hold" before speaking to an operator.

When a person finally answered, she mumbled her canned greeting so badly I thought I was listening to a side conversation she was having with a co-worker.

After I explained my problem, she put me on hold for a few more minutes to "trouble shoot." She returned to say that there were no outages in my area. (That was news to me.) She then said she'd have to transfer me to another department, except that she couldn't actually transfer me. She had to give me another number to call.

When I asked why, she told me too many customers hang up, and the other department accuses their department of "dropping" the calls.

After calling the number, punching through another phone maze, and listening to 10 minutes of a recording suggesting I go online and fix the problem myself, I hung up.

In an increasingly online world, many customers' first, most frequent, and sometimes only "human" interaction with a company is by phone. And banks are no different.

As customers have less reason or desire to make frequent branch visits, it becomes increasingly likely that when they do want or need to talk to a banker, they'll pick up the phone.

And the bank representatives on the other end of the phone establish in customers' minds the levels of competence and customer appreciation for the entire institution.

When I ask participants in training sessions for their personal phone horror stories, there is never a lack of painfully funny examples.

What's interesting is that when I ask them if they would bet their next paycheck that their own business was appreciably better than the examples just given, the answers are usually less than motivating. …

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