I have just dialed into a large (very large) retail organization to check on a pending order.  I am greeted by an interactive voice response (IVR) system. I only need an answer to two short questions from the salesperson from whom I recently purchased an item. But I am routed away from my familiar store location, into a large call center, in an unknown location.

I listen to the seemingly endless voice prompt instructions, none of which offer me a single source to speak with a human being. I pick the most suitable choice and find myself thrown further into the IVR maze, with more choices, even further from the answer I desire.

I begin hitting the “0” key repeatedly. The automated script, perhaps sensing my frustration, sends me back to the start! I am pretty sure this system is punishing me for my lack of patience.

I begin again. This time I make different selections. Finally, to my surprise and delight, after a long series of hopeful button presses on the second round, I am speaking with a real person! Great joy! I am so excited! I quickly fire off all my questions.

There is a pause… then he apologizes and explains these questions must be answered by my local store, and he needs to transfer me back to that location – which is the number I dialed in the first place. Before I can say anything more, he puts me into another IVR system which prompts me to enter my zip code to help identify my local store… and off I go to the “correct store location” that I first dialed. Once again I hear the commands of an IVR, and once again I navigate eventually to a living, breathing (and hopefully serving!) human. Finally I find someone who can answer my questions, in the store location I originally called, at the store where I originally made my purchase.

Wikipedia states that the term “The Experience Economy” was first described in an article published in 1998 by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. In the article, they described an experience economy as the next wave of economic development following the agrarian economy, the industrial economy, and the most recent service economy.

My recent IVR experience made me reflect: Is our economy developing to deliver a better experience, or is the customer experience being sacrificed in the name of better “economy”. Has the recent financial crisis altered our ways of thinking about delivering service? Are companies now choosing to use the word “economy” as an excuse that degrades the experience of clients, customers and colleagues?

When a client or potential client reaches out to you, they want to interact with you as their supplier, partner, or trusted advisor.  They have a concern, an important question, an urgent problem or even a complaint. Each interaction has a powerful impact on your customer’s view and their opinion of your organization.  What is the impact of this person being tangled in an IVR web? Or receiving an automated email response stating that the person they need is out of the office for a week? How have these shortcuts, in pursuit of greater economy, impacted the ultimate experience?

If you are in service, are you still committed to serving?

11 replies
  1. Eric Ng
    Eric Ng says:

    Well said!

    Recently, I booked two business class tickets on Singapore latest budget airline Scoot. I made an honest mistake- selecting the wrong dates on my ipad. When I realise the error, I call Scoot helpdesk- no answer because it was not ready for business yet. The automated message says call back tomorrow. The next day, after trying for 4 hours to get through the line, the staff told me that it is the policy of Scoot that NO changes are allowed because I bought a discounted ticket. Price difference is $70 and I offered to pay the difference. Still NO- policy! I am stuck with two business class tickets that I cannot use- I end up losing S$ 1,665 plus lost time :((

  2. Henry
    Henry says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more on the IVR thingy. It’s driving customers up the wall when all we want can be just a simple “Yes / No” answer. Service companies should seriously do a rethink on the IVR system as part of their customer service charter.

  3. Robin Langdale
    Robin Langdale says:

    Sharing IVR experiences, My London bank branch relocated to Victoria Street in the City. As this is a very long street I called to ask which of the three underground stations is nearest to the new branch.
    “Sorry I don’t know’
    ” How can you not know?”
    “I am in India!”

    Solution: managed to find their FAX number, faxed the query and they faxed back a map. So don’t scrap your fax machine!

    Robin Langdale

  4. Jeremy Nash
    Jeremy Nash says:

    Ouch. In the US, probably elsewhere, we have “road rage.” Wackos, drive around the freeways and pop other motorists who’ve cut them off or who knows what? Maybe, Ron, instead of road rage, you can coin an equivalent phrase for the victims of the Experience Economy?

  5. Carol Smith
    Carol Smith says:

    I couldn’t agree more. For all the attention service gets, I am seeing less of it in actual fact. The trend to pushing customers away is strong–recently I learned that if I make a reservation by phone my plane ticket is an extra $25–yet United’s “new” reservation system (inherited from Continental) refuses to function. Getting to a person who can DO SOMETHING is harder and harder. Companies want our money, not us.

    That’s not what Pine & Gilmore had in mind.

  6. Rconnolly
    Rconnolly says:

    I just want to know what the company is you were dealing with? I think taking a page from the Verizon playbook, you can see they have virtually dominated the wireless industry because of their customer service ratings with JD Powers and Associates. I cannot think of anything more frustrating than to get the run around from a chintzy wireless carrier. In my industry (Mortgage Lending) a cell phone is a virtual lifeline. I am with Verizon, and I don’t even THINK about jumping carriers. Cutting overhead costs does not equate to a better bottom line. Dell computers is on life support now because of their poor customer service. Personally, I think the old fashioned customer service will make a comeback, and those companies who pay attention will be on top.

  7. Rconnolly
    Rconnolly says:

    An aside, many years ago, I ended up having to talk to their (Dell’s) IT department for so so many hours, because of their mangled mess and mismanagement, that I am actually befriended one of the technicians in India. He is one of my FB friends to this day. He invited me to his wedding…so I guess there are good things that come from it.

  8. BozenaT
    BozenaT says:

    Good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

  9. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Thank you all for your inspiring, funny, and inquisitive posts. As the writer of this blog, I let you know that I am US based (the only member of the UP! Your Service team who is 100% US based). Having come from the software industry (the Verizon comment made me giggle) I was determined to bring UPLIFTING service to a world that needed it. Desperately.

    Since it was asked – the retailer in question is a VERY large US home repair and remodeling chain. I’m sure that this tells you all that you need to know.

    Please be sure to watch for Ron Kaufman’s newest book – “Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet ” – available at Amazon May 15th. You’ll LOVE it!

    Andrea Ihara – Sr. VP Business Development – UP! Your Service.

  10. Ethel B. Bondoc
    Ethel B. Bondoc says:

    Recently I had a ‘trying experience’ with a bank teller and a bank manager of the no. 1 bank in my country!. This time its a face to face, not IVR experience and my patience was ‘tried’ and it snapped!. When I moved residence where I opened my original account, to where i live now, instead of closing my bank account in my former residence, I was allowed to transact banking needs and services in a branch closer to where i now reside.so great!.. but one day this month, i did a normal withdrawal and deposit transaction, and then I was told by the teller that my “signature” had expired! and that they need to see an ID for verification. no prob with that to which I showed my SSS card and teller took note of that on my withdrawal slip… and then teller tells me to sit down (no please) and my name will be called as soon as my signature is verified by their manager. and so i waited… and waited… and by this time I can feel my patience draining out… I approached the teller and she told me that my withdrawal slip is still with the manager, and when I approached the manager true enough my withdrawal slip was still hanging in her fax machine and has not been sent through… ahhhhhhhhg,,, and thenI I felt my patience ‘snapped’ that drew attention and only then was my transaction processed. I had to tell the manager of the bank that ” customers ” should never be inconvenienced for the shortcomings of their branches – updating of signature is an inter branch activity and should not be made at the inconvenience of customers…. I did not feel I was in good hands!

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