I work for a large telecomm company, and since joining, I’ve learned two key things that drastically changed my perception and behavior regarding telecomms and call centers:
- Call Center reps are not the enemy. And they didn’t decide to make a process or product difficult.
- Telecomms have myriad systems, and as a result, optimal customer experiences cannot be facilitated due to the complexity behind the front end interface.
Several months ago, I had the opportunity to observe a call center. Having a chance to objectively observe a conversation between someone who needed something and someone providing something (help, in this case) was an eye opener.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the phone with people, but objectivity really puts things in perspective. What I observed were customers, who were justifiably miffed, blame the rep for whatever offended. I understand why, the rep is their point of contact with the company. Looking at the conversation objectively, this wasn’t really fair. Business leaders make decisions as best they can, and customers feel those effects. Then the call center reps hear about it.
Observing this objectively has changed my behavior towards call center reps. When I seek help on the phone, I know that the call center rep had absolutely nothing to do with the experience I have had until I got them on the phone. After that? Well that’s on them. But I intentionally decouple my feelings about the business processes up to that point from my interaction with the call center rep. Normally, I have very pleasant experiences with reps. They are typically very good at their job and can be quite pleasant to talk with. As long as I give them that chance by not being impatient. Also, when we’re all in good moods, we might even fix the situation faster (future blog post).
On the flip side of things, I spend a lot of time talking with our business clients about user experience. Requirements for systems and interfaces. There are trade offs to be decided upon every day. Better system integration or 20 million dollars? Better system integration means better performance, as well as the ability to facilitate interactions that are more in line with users’ mental models. But 20 million dollars? That means other projects. And jobs.
Today, I pre-ordered an iPhone from AT&T. Then, I received an email that told me I could not remedy a broken order online. I had to talk to a person. And oh, they canceled an order that had successfully gone through but kept an order that was unsuccessful. Also, I couldn’t see my order online until 24 hours passed. This was annoying, but I understood. Telecomm systems? Ancient. There are a kajillion of them all working together to bring me that online ordering experience. And for now, that online ordering experience has limits. Those limits have to do with order follow-up.
I can imagine some UX person over at AT&T sitting in a meeting, saying “users want to be able to see their orders immediately.” The response was probably, “But that costs too much money and system resources.” And then that UX person, who only wants the company’s customers to have happy online experiences says, “Users want to have control. In this case to be able to control and fix their order online, not call a help desk. People really hate sitting listening to muzak and fighting phone trees.” To which the business or requirements people said, “We simply can’t facilitate that with our equipment right now. It would cost 100 million dollars.” And the UX person sighs, because this battle is not going to be won that day.
Now, understanding doesn’t mean acceptance. I’m not amused by my inability to fix or view my order online until a large amount of time has passed. I wish it were different. I wish if my order failed that I could fix it rather than call a call center. I hope to see AT&T improve that in the future. In fact, I expect them to make it happen. (Experience tells me this could take a while, though)
However, I had a lovely chat with a woman in an AT&T call center today, she was a having a pretty crazy day because several thousand other people had the same problem I did (yikes!). I appreciate that we were both in good moods and dealt with my issue in a timely and acceptable manner. Her attitude and my attitude made what could have been a truly frustrating experience into a positive customer interaction with my point of contact with AT&T.