Corporations work hard to minimize the costs of providing customer service. Often, their solution is to make it painful and frustrating to call them on the telephone. A great example of this approach comes from Bank of America.
A Google search didn’t turn up much, but there were some vague indications that it might be related to an Eastern European pornography organization. I hate using the phone, so I tried their online chat help. After explaining the situation, the “online banking professional” provided the customer service number so I could call the bank. Thanks.
Calling the bank resulted in my first definitive defeat by a phone menu. Normally, I can find the right option to get to a representative, or dial 0, or something. But this time, I was clearly up against a superior foe. There was no way to get to a human. I tried all promising paths; I yelled and cursed, and nothing worked. Finally, satisfied that it had trampled me into submission, the menu said that a representative would be with me in 14 minutes.
The representative was very nice when she came on the line. I explained the situation and she put me on hold several times while she tried to figure out what it was. Finally, she said that the computers were down and connected me with her supervisor. Her supervisor was also very nice, and she was also stumped. She said she could see that the system had “generated a letter” about the debit to be sent to my house. A letter? That’s right. The plan was to mark patterns of symbols on a piece of dead tree and then to have someone carry that object across the country to my house. She couldn’t see what was on the letter, but after putting me on hold a few more times, she figured it out. My wife had written a check a while back for $350, and Bank of America had only deducted $250 from our account. The debit was to correct that mistake.
Not only had Bank of America stolen an hour of my life, they had to pay humans to talk with me for a good part of that hour. And based on the accents, those humans were making US wages. Instead of cutting costs by making it hard to get representatives on the phone, a better solution for companies would be design their products so that we don’t have to call them. This means both not making mistakes and making sure that communications with customers are clear.