Little Things Part 4: Use operators.

It’s sad when customer service is in a state when customers need sites like GetHuman.com to talk to the company they pay. It doesn’t get much worse than that – a customer buys his or her $2,500 computer from Dell or HP and has to use a site like GetHuman to talk to a person.

Endless phone systems (PBXes, which stands for private brand exchange) are a common cause for frustration among customers and they are a common example of companies making the service experience and process better and more efficient for the company than for the customer. Many customers find voice controlled (say 1 for sales as opposed to push 1) even more frustrating and when a PBX asks you to spell out your account username and can’t seem to get it, customers become even more frustrated. The result? They are upset, grouchy, and frustrated by the time they get to a person and they let the person know about it. Customer service representatives get discouraged and the end result is an overall decreased level of customer service and lower employee morale.

For not that much money companies can hire an operator. A few operators can handle a fairly busy support or sales department for not much extra money. Operators should be able to:

  • Answer basic questions like how do I signup, what’s your fax number or address, etc.
  • Have the ability to search company knowledge bases and FAQs.
  • Guide non-technical customers through common processes like ordering, submitting a ticket online, checking shipping status, etc.
  • Gather information about a client such as name, telephone number, problem, etc. and assign a ticket or reference ID. The operator should then be able to locate an available support representative to take the call and provide the support representative with the reference or ticket ID beforehand.
  • And of course, transfer customers to the appropriate person or department.

Having an operator can make a world of difference. Even if customers have to wait a few minutes to speak with an operator, they won’t be nearly as frustrated since they know they’ll end up in the right department. Have a message saying something like “Thank you for calling Company XYZ. You will be connected to an operator momentarily. Thank you for your patience.” If the hold time is under 5 or 6 minutes, the customer will likely still be in a good mood by the time he or she speaks with an operator.

If increased customer satisfaction isn’t worth it by itself, operators can save you time and money by answering basic questions as well. There’s no need for a customer to be connected to the sales department to ask a question like “What is your fax number?” – it just wastes time and energy for both the customer and the employee. Let employees with specific skills do their jobs and have capable operators who can perform basic tasks.

Hire people who are friendly, courteous, and intelligent to be operators. Hire people who are genuinely nice and have great people skills. You can train them how to create a ticket and search the knowledge base later. As they are nice, can type, and can read – they’ll probably do just fine. Operators should be paid the same as an average customer service
representative.

If you cannot afford an operator or simply don’t want one, try keeping your PBX system as simple as possible. Limit it to one level and have no more than three or four options. Extensions like sales, billing, and technical support will work fine. You should also have a way to get to a human on the first level of your menu (Push 0 to speak with an operator) just in case the customer isn’t sure which department to go to. There’ll be more about PBX systems and how to keep them simple after the Little Things, Big Differences series.

Companies dedicated to customer service use operators – yours should too.