Death by call center

The way you handle client calls could be killing your customer base.

October 13, 2014
John Tschohl
Snow and Ice Management

“Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.”

Yes, businesses have effectively succeeded in making customers go away. Small businesses need to ask themselves why they installed an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. Was it to handle calls more efficiently for the business or was it to handle calls more efficiently for the customer?

If transferring the burden of getting in touch with you landed on your customer’s shoulders, then your motivation was to make your business more efficient. Congratulations! You are now in the customer prevention business.

This kind of operations-first and customers-second thinking will force you to spend more marketing dollars each year just to maintain your customer base. Statistics continue to demonstrate that to remain in business you must retain 60 percent of your customer base each year.

Knowing you are in the snow removal and ice management business, it is understandable that the majority of your calls come in while you are out dealing with winter events. You need a system to help you grow your business. Your customer’s or potential clients need to get a problem solved right now. For example, they have a service question, or they wish to request an additional deicing application. Worse, your crew has made a vital mistake and it may prohibit their business from opening on time in the morning.

Take a moment to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and note that there are a number of things that people hate about IVR’s:

  • Duplicate information. Answering the same questions over and over again.
  • Being on-hold for a long time before getting to speak to a real, live person.
  • Irritating music on hold/advertisement.
  • Long menu. If there are too many options, callers will hang up before the third option.
  • Hard to understand
  • Talking to a real-live person is No. 1 for callers, plain and simple.

In this world of mobility and speed, the need to talk to a person to handle a problem or complaint is number one on your customer’s list. They hate listening to a long list of options and no, they don’t want to feed in their customer number or telephone number. They won’t wait until you have the time to get back to them. And listening to “smooth Jazz’ while holding for a stressed out and overworked operator upsets them even further. It’s far more important to them to have their problem handled right now.

IVR system as a customer retention tool.

One advantage besides saving money is that IVR systems don’t sleep. They don’t take lunch breaks. They don’t go on vacations to the Bahamas. An IVR system can be available 24 hours a day to field questions and help customers with simple tasks. But, there’s no human being that can help you right away.

Here are a few steps you can take right now that will help preserve and increase your present customer base and make your cost saving IVR more consumer-friendly:

  1. Set up your IVR to connect to your cell phone for emergencies. “If this is an emergency, please press 1 and you will be connected to a representative immediately.”
  2. A little research. Do yourself, your business and your customers a favor. Have a number of your friends, family and employees call your business and time just how long it takes to ether get a warm voice or get so frustrated they hang up. Have them rank their frustration level on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being “I would never do business with them.”
  3. Check out the competition. Have these same people call a competitor and apply the same ranking.
  4. Change your first PRESS #1 Button to say, “Thank you so much for calling. If you are a present customer of ours, Press 2 now, leave your name and we will call you immediately. If you are a new customer and your call is not answered within 60 seconds, Press #3, leave your number and we will call you ASAP.”
  5. Change your tactics. In your advertising materials let customers know that “We answer in 60 seconds or we pay.”
  6. Always have a cell number for immediate contact with present customers.

I believe you can find great business examples in other industries. Take the experts at Vail Resorts. The employees there are totally consumed by customer service.

They go out of their way to notice what people need.

If you have to wait over a certain period of time for a lift, you will get a free lift ticket. If you look like you are having trouble skiing, you will get a free lesson.

The company is not in the skiing business, it’s in the customer service business. The same holds true with snow removal and ice management.

It’s customer service and peace of mind that your clients are really looking – and paying – for when they contract with you.


John Tschohl is founder and president of Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis.