Q: Helping Customers On Hold

It’s important to understand who your customer is and what their critical business needs are. Helping customers is only possible once you have identified who you are truly serving (who will pay you) and which of their needs or problems you can help them address.

Q: Helping Customers On Hold

Q: I worked in the call center industry for a dozen years where I clearly saw the need for a smartphone application that would complement the Interactive Voice Response systems (IVR) that were the front end to talking with a representative.

A: A poorly implemented IVR is like a bad webinar: to borrow a phrase Peter Cohan, the author of Great Demo!, they are a way of “inflicting pain at a distance.” One challenge is that IVR can be imposed on a caller essentially without their permission–unless the caller wants to hang up or pursue another channel.  This creates a “chicken and egg” situation for the customer where they need to download the app while they are on hold–or in anticipation of a future need if they are a “frequent flyer” on the hotline.

Q: An app can do present a basic diagnostic fault tree to the consumer and potentially solve their problem without the need for them to speak with a representative.

A: If you can get callers to download the app this may work, but they are not really your customers. It seems to me that you are selling to the head of customer service because they have to actually populate the diagnostic tree. The application’s ability to enable self-service and prevent calls  may offer compelling benefit, in particular if the service manager can get credit for the problem resolution or otherwise measure the impact on customer satisfaction.

While I think it’s good that you can leverage your call center experience but I would strongly encourage you to interview a dozen or two dozen potential customers to understand their view. Because it’s the call center or customer service manager who will be paying you, they are your customer.

I think there is a difference between a first or second time caller and a frequent caller.  They may be driven by different needs, and in the former case may view the call as a one time or rare occurrence. In your interviews you should consider collecting data on call frequency, call duration, and what incidents have triggered calls, in particular call spikes. Consider offering an audit or analysis of call history to uncover call spikes and variation in call duration and probe for root causes and possible interventions.

Q: Even if the application does not remove the need to talk to the agent it can also enable a text chat in parallel that will be more efficient for sharing numbers or complex configuration commands than a pure voice conversation.

A: This is a secondary benefit–or perhaps a primary benefit for a frequent caller–that of shortening the duration of the call by making the communication richer and more accurate. But more generally I think you should step back and broaden beyond an application that complements the IVR but maintain your focus on call center needs because of your considerable experience in that arena.

My sense is an application is most likely to be used by frequent flyers who have a foreseeable repeated need. If they have some kind of certification (e.g. the equivalent of a CCIE or MCIE for the particular product or service) you might enable to bypass the IVR and first level technical support and allow them to connect directly with second level support. Here your chatops model may be much more attractive. Also where there are opportunities for sharing current configuration or configuration changes automatically, avoiding transcription errors.

Q: My thought was that this could be a consumer app that would also make hold time more enjoyable.

The highest value for the consumer is no wait, especially if they want talk to someone. This is why many hotlines are now allowing calls to be scheduled (often from a menu of available slots based on current demand forecast). And why firms are investing in proactive notification or remote configuration management and updates.

In the end, if consumers want to “enjoy” their time on hold I suspect they will play a game or put the phone on speaker and do something else.

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