By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD
Today’s younger drivers have never had the experience of pulling into a gas station and having an attendant run out to fill up their car with gas. When it comes to fueling their vehicles, all they know is self-service.
I have a vague recollection of that time. When first offered naysayers scoffed at the concept of self-service, saying few drivers would use it. However, as the price per gallon differential between the full-service and self-serve alternatives increased, the buying public proved the skeptics wrong.
When the Internet boom occurred, the idea of self-service again surfaced. Their fundamental underlying business model was a scalable system, accessible through cyberspace, that offered customer service via self-service, without any call center support. In most cases that vision did not pan out – and the bubble burst.
Few people wanted self-serve customer service, but when the alternatives were inadequate phone support or no phone support at all, they reluctantly acquiesced. Even so, this planted the seed of self-serve customer service in consumers’ minds. And it has continued to grow, albeit slowly, but steadily, sometimes awkwardly, and other times with glimmers of promise. Over time it has proliferated, and eventually it has become expected. They even retrained me.
When faced with a question about an organization I invariably go online seeking instant gratification. However, more times than not, I am disappointed. First, the answers are seldom instant. Second, either I can’t find what I seek or what I do find fails to clarify. Or even worse it causes confusion. Only occasionally do my self-serve customer service impulses produce a quick and satisfying result.
So then, why do I persist in an approach that leaves me frustrated and requires too much time? Quite simply, experience has conditioned me to accept it as the lesser of evils. Although phone numbers are often hidden, when I do find them I am more likely to be dismayed than delighted. It might be I am calling outside of regular business hours, or they are experiencing a high volume of calls, or none of the IVR (interactive voice response) options apply, or the message that my call is important – repeated at fifteen-second intervals – is annoying, or the hold music is distorted, too loud, or just plain grating, or I am disconnected while on hold, or I can’t understand the agent and vise-versa, or the rep can’t help me.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Customer service by phone can work. It is possible to answer calls quickly, offer helpful IVR, provide clear connections, hire agents who speak understandable English, and give the right answers to callers. As proof I hold up my Internet hosting company who provides excellent phone support from the United States. Yes, I still sometimes attempt the self-serve method, but calling is usually quicker and more satisfying, just as phone support should be.