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Dear Every Company in America: Please Stop Answering Your Phone Like This (and Do This Instead)

We know why some companies make the wrong choices. Don’t be like them!

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BY Bill Murphy Jr. - 06 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Talking on the phone: it's the worst, right? But sometimes, when when you're trying to get customer service from a big company, there's no substitute for talking with a real person.

Yet, many companies go out of their way to make this difficult. Their goal? To encourage customers to give up (or, at least to interact with the company in cheaper but less convenient ways).

We can't do much about this kind of customer service malice, but we can encourage companies not to copy these lousy practices just because it becomes a sort of lowest common denominator industry standard. So, here's a handy guide for any company setting up its customer service phone responses. Please, do the following things:

1. Answer quickly.

You can't control how quickly calls are routed to you, but you can control how quickly your system answers once you receive the call. If your system takes too long, find another system.
Good: No rings. One at most.
Bad: Two rings. Or more.

2. Dial '0' for a real person.

Give customers the option to opt out of the whole automated process, by dialing zero. Hell has a special special place for companies that don't allow this option.
Good: "Welcome to Veriz--" (BEEP!) "Connecting to an operator immediately."
Bad: "Welcome to Veriz--" (BEEP!) "That's not an option. Welcome to Veriz--"

3. List options in order of use to the customer.

When someone is calling to report a problem, they don't want to hear five options about adding additional services before being able to get help.
Good: "Press 1 to report a problem. Press 2 to change your service."
Bad: "Press 1 to order our special offer. Press 2 to add additional services. Press 3 to hear about some other garbarge..."

4. Speed up the voice.

Major pet peeve: Voice recordings that move along slowly, or that take far too many words to get to the point.
Good: "Press 1 to report a problem."
Bad: "If the reason you are calling is to let us know about a problem with your service, good news! You can press 1 to hear a list of commonly reported... blah blah blah."

5. Skip the sales pitches.

For the love of God, when somebody is calling for service, and is potentially already stressed out, the last thing they want is for you to give them an ineffective hard sell while they're waiting.
Good: "Connecting to an operator."
Bad: "While you're waiting, did you know you can add SOME TOTALLY IRRELEVANT EXTRA SERVICE YOU DON'T WANT to your monthly bill?"

6. Also, skip the message about your website.

You have a website?! That's so impressive. Just kidding, literally every person who calls you already knows this. That's probably where they found your phone number.
Good: "You're already here, on the phone, so let's take care of your problem."
Bad: "Did you know you can also find out information about our company by going to our website: double-u, double-u, double-u, dot..."

7. Get voice recognition that works.

It's 2017. If Alexa can understand when I ask from the shower to tell me the weather and then ask it to play me the theme from the 1970s television show CHiPs (long story), your voice system should be able to understand words like, "Cancel service."
Good: "Okay, I'll get you to someone who can help."
Bad: "I think you said..." (followed by something you definitely did not say).

8. Never, ever, ever, hang up.

I can hardly believe that some automated customer service systems do this--but you've probably encountered some that just flat-out give up on you, and hang up.
Good: "Sorry you're having trouble with our service. I'll get you to someone who can help."
Bad: "Sorry we weren't able to help. Goodbye!"