Phone-Tree Customer Service Waiting App
Recently my debit card number got jacked. Some place or retailer I legitimately spent money at was breached. The place found out about it and sent a list of numbers to the credit card company that backs the card. The credit card company contacted my bank, which cancelled my card. They did this before any weird charges were racked up, so I suppose I should be grateful, even though I use my card so rarely it was three days before I noticed (my card was suddenly denied).
When I called the number on the back of my card to reach the bank I knew what I was in for: a phone tree, followed by a transfer, followed by more phone tree, and so on, until the thing was resolved. I was ready for it, but I was already a little miffed because my card was denied for what I thought was no reason (my account balance was several thousand times more than sufficient for the movie ticket I was trying to purchase).
I called the bank and started moving through the phone tree. I pushed several buttons trying to talk to someone, entered in my account information, and began to wait. 15 minutes later (my phone has a call timer) a voice answered, took my information again, even though I’d already entered it into the phone system, determined that I had the wrong department, and transferred me to someone else. 15 minutes after that, a new voice answered, took my information again (I was in a mall and had to go to a secluded corner so I didn’t announce my SSN to the world), informed me that I’d contacted the right department in the first place, and promptly put me back on hold for the first department. I had to stifle a scream when the first department answered and asked for my information for a third time.
Luckily, the guy on the end was competent – he explained what was going on and got it sorted out for me. I borrowed the price of the movie ticket from my buddy, got my new card later that week, and went on with my life. I’m generally a pretty easy-going guy, but having my card denied on guy’s night out, having to borrow money from my friends, and waiting for 45 minutes on hold on top of it – I was pretty pissed.
Rather than just complain (but that’s all I’ve done so far, you say!) I’d rather try to solve the problem with technology. So here’s the idea: more and more people have smartphones now, why can’t businesses create an app that allows me to get in line from my phone but not wait on hold? Why can’t I open an app for my bank (or the business I’m trying to contact) that functions like a small website – I describe the issue, type in the relevant information, and then go back to what I am doing? When my place in line comes up, my phone buzzes, just like one of those vibrating buzzer things at a crowded restaurant that tells you when your table is ready, and I can switch the app to voice and talk to the agent?
This isn’t a novel idea, really. We have all the technology to make it happen, so why aren’t businesses doing it? They already have apps. They already have websites and agents waiting to take calls – why can’t the technology be linked? To take it a step further, why can’t the app offer to entertain me with a game while I wait? I’m not one of those people who think that we need, as a species, to be entertained all the time. But while I’m waiting on hold for a customer support representative (“Your call is important to us. All representatives are currently busy. Please stay on the line and wait for the next available representative.) that’s one of the times when a distraction would go a long way toward keeping me happy with the company.
There are a number of obvious advantages to this:
- I would be happier as a customer and more likely to stay loyal to the company. This would be a killer feature for me. I would stay with a business that had something like this. When some businesses have this feature and others don’t, it becomes a huge differentiating feature. I would switch to a business that offered something like this.
- Customer service levels could go up, because the agent would have my information ready, with my account information pulled up, before we began to talk. It would also be easy to determine, since my information was already there, if I was trying to contact the correct department.
- It’s possible, since customer calls would take less time, that businesses could take more calls per hour, lowering response time or needing less employees to handle call volume. This lowers the bottom line for the business, and makes the suits and shareholders happy.
- It’s moving toward a future where communications are more unified. People stop looking at all the different communication methods (email, voice, text, websites, video, etc.) as separate things. It gets consumers to adopt multimedia communication (like video chat) faster and more willingly. This helps everyone, customers and businesses alike.
- It helps minimize the errors that invariably occur when giving information over the phone (how do you spell your last name again? Is that D as in Dog? Or B as in Boy?).
I’m sure there are others that I haven’t considered. And certainly, creating the application and the backend that supports it would be an investment. There’s also the need for customer education about this new method. But these are small concerns considering the possible gains.
So someone do it. Sack up and make this thing. I’ll be the first customer you have.
(On a related note: why can I text Pizza Hut a pizza order but I can’t text a retailer to see if they have an item in stock? Or text my senator about how jacked up I think the political situation is? Texting is better than calling for a short message and people prefer it over voice. Why don’t more businesses support it?)