Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Companies, please tell your “Virtual Assistant” to shut the **** up! Let’s put the Customer back into Customer Service

(read the article to the end and I will give you a hint about how to possibly shortcut this nightmare)

Technology is detrimental to business? In this case, yes. Am I nuts? Yes, no or maybe, read on.

I am willing to venture a guess that we all have been through this: You call a company that is vital to your existence like your internet provider or your bank, and, instead of a person, you get a “Virtual Assistant” who asks you to state your issue. No matter what your response, it tells you that you can get a quicker response by: a. visiting their web site b. chatting with someone (who is somewhere) or responding to the link they just sent to your mobile phone. If you don’t respond to one of those choices, there is no option to speak to a live human being. In fact, in more than one case (company to remain nameless), if you don’t choose one of those it hangs up on you. IF you have experienced that, you know how I feel, and if you didn’t, I need to know which companies you have called recently.


It seems that, today, companies will do ANYTHING to prevent you from talking to a human being. Why? Because that human being is someone who is paid for the knowledge that will help you, while the other choices are free or cheaper. 

Wouldn’t chat be a viable option? NO. Why? Because a. It is so much easier to say “sorry I can’t help you” on chat than on phone and b. more than likely, that person is in another time zone, probably working in the dead of night, is not paid by the company that you called and c. Doesn’t know jack about your problem.

So, since I am a businessperson and professor who is supposed to understand the economic benefits of technology, I should get it, right? NO. I don’t. For two reasons: a.  I didn’t get my problem solved and b. I am really pissed off at the gauntlet I have to go through every time I call. Make no mistake about it: If I had the chance to dump your ass and switch to another company, I would. So the company’s terrible customer service moat is switching cost. They are betting you can’t or won’t switch because your brain doesn’t want the trouble. Are they right?

What have I done in these situations? Simply, get apoplectic. I yell Customer Service! Representative! Human Being into the phone while pressing 0 a dozen times in rapid succession, like 00000000000000000. Oh.. Good thing my heart is sturdy.

Do I have to go through that every time? Seems so, except when I find a workaround (see below)

Wait, it gets worse. All of these companies have conspired, once you get to a point where a human is possible, to deliver the message, “We are experiencing a higher-than-normal call volume.” That, my friends, is half the story. The real deal is that the company is experiencing a higher call volume that the fewer and fewer humans cannot handle.

But seriously folks, if I were the CEO of one of those companies, I would STOP all that and allow customers to chat with a human any time they indicate a reason that cannot be answered by an automatic response (like bank account balance). But wouldn’t this cost more money? Depends if you are looking for short term gain or customer loyalty. Executives know about the value of customer loyalty, right? (Your answer? See below) 

Even for those unlike me (there are a lot of them) who just hangs up, gives up, or chooses one of the alternatives, the experience will create a negative memory in their unconscious mind and, according to Dr. Peter Steidl, author of Neuromarketing Essentials, just as our forebears did when they were looking for easier ways to hunt food, like this is a great place for food but there are lions there, whereas another with less food is lion-free. They will try to avoid the bad experience and look for more positive ones. 

Thus, for example, the plethora of cellular companies that has sprung up in recent years. They really don’t provide better service or coverage, but the companies people are switching from really suck. So as human beings led by their quest for dopamine (the brain’s chemical secreted when we have or anticipate a pleasing experience), they have to make the move.

My message to companies is, no matter how much more you think you are spending for prompt and human customer service, it will create more business, more loyalty and create behavioral codes that will make your company a no-brainer and an automatic choice. All you need to do is connect your customers to a real, knowledgeable person that actually works for the company in the same or nearby time zone. 

Happy customers spend more, stay longer and buy more things. This is a fundamental fact. Whereas unhappy ones become part of the leaks in your Leaky Bucket. Ask Apple, who still makes it easy to get in touch when you need help (used to be ask Amazon as well but they have gone the way of the outsourced). This is more than a fact of Customer Relationship Management or business logic: It is a fundamental function of our non-conscious mind or System 1, which controls purchase decision making.

Wait. Shouldn’t big companies know this? There are ways to measure customer loyalty, like Customer Lifetime Value and Customer Retention Rate, Average Customer Spend etc. 

NO. According to a survey done by Customer Gauge in 2022, 44% of businesses didn’t know their rate of churn or retention. In fact, 32% of B2B executives were completely unaware of their loyalty rates at all.


“According to our most recent research, 86% of B2B (me: I know this is for B2B but it should be the same or worse for B2C because B2B firms have fewer and less diverse customers) brands aren’t measuring the ROI of their customer experience (CX), while 47% don’t measure upsells, cross-sales, or other metrics of customer loyalty.” 

It gets worse. According to the same survey, “The trouble is that many of the executives we spoke to didn’t know how to measure customer loyalty.” 

OMG. Where is John Galt?




What is my little hint to circumvent the gauntlet? Don’t respond to any prompts or questions; as soon as you get connected to the bot, press 0 and say customer service, representative, human. This will confuse the Virtual Assistant and give it no choice but to hand you over to a human. (This does not work all the time, nor does it guarantee which time zone the human will be in).

Good luck with that. Protesting or writing to the company most likely won’t help. As always, customers need to talk with their feet. Or their checkbook, as it were.

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