“He’s not here.”


It seems almost beyond comprehension that in today’s ultra-competitive, fast-paced global markets-and in an era where companies are quick to cite “taxation” and “government interference and regulation” as two of their most, well, taxing, challenges-that you could ever call any company and run into the human equivalent of a roadblock, a dead end. After all, if times are so tough, the last thing you’d ever want to do as a company is to all but turn people away when they’re trying to come through your company’s communications front door, right? Yet that is exactly what is happening at too many companies today.

What am I talking about? This: While we continue to hear executives pontificating from the podium at one high-tone industry tradeshow after another about the wonders of customer service, about “Customer retention,” about “New strategies to slash customer churn,” too often what’s going on back at the fort is exactly the opposite. Just today I returned a call from a named executive at an OSS company who wanted to talk with me about doing business with his firm. I dialed the number, a person greeted me, I asked for the named executive, and these were the person’s exact and only words: “He’s not here.” Then dead silence. Not an offer to put me through to voicemail, to take a message, to have someone else help me. Not a question to clarify what I needed. Nothing.

Over the years this scenario has played out too many times. The voices on the phone have sometimes been men, but most often they are the voices of tired, undoubtedly overworked and unappreciated women who have also without a doubt been passed over for any chance of promotion by each new crop of hot young whippersnappers fresh out of college. The overaggressive and way-too-full-of-themselves set who seem to dominate executive recruiting classes, then go on to prove that their greatest business asset is the ability to ask 20 questions on any subject followed by one more: “Where are you guys going for lunch?”

What I’m trying to say is that to some extent, I know where those who (literally and figuratively) answer the call are coming from. You can understand why a person who may have answered the phone literally 195,000 times during his or her career may not be thrilled when call number 195,001 comes clanging through the switchboard. Yet that does not negate the destructive effect it can have on your business.

Back to today’s call. In that brief moment of silence a number of things raced through my mind. First: Who hires these people? Second: Who trains them? Anyone? [Bueller…? Bueller…? Bueller…? Anyone…?] Is this how far our business culture has evolved? Do we think our let-the-customer-pay-the-freight-and-do-all-the-work-too, self-service culture now extends to every inbound phone call, too? Would it inordinately tax our people (and those who “manage” them) to insist that if we’re going to have human beings answer our corporate phones-you know, because a top executive “Wants callers to experience the human touch”-that those humans have a clue about what to do with the calls? That they encourage people to do business with you rather than chase them away?

What if we took a different approach to inbound calls? Visualize our company’s business as a toll road and every inbound call as a car on the on-ramp, and the more cars we can smoothly route onto our highway, the more money we make (potentially, anyway). Tell me what a great idea it is to place a roadblock in front of those cars now. Would it maybe make a lot more sense to automate your inbound communications “tollbooths” as many highway departments have literally done with those little RFID toll tags?

In future ramblings we’ll talk about automated software solutions to the problem including today’s vastly-expanded customer relationship management (CRM) systems that service providers are using to keep subscribers rolling along the revenue highway.

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