Differentiate Your Business: Improve Your "Over the Phone" Customer Experience

Many companies obsess over their customer experience, creating a fancy interactive Web site, finding just the right furniture for their reception area, and investing a ton of time and money implementing a CRM system to track customers' preferences and shopping patterns. And how many companies spend the same amount of time and effort managing their "over the phone" customer experience?

ZapposOn a whim, I called Zappos.com. With their cult-like following and a reputation for providing extraordinary customer service, I was curious to see how they approached the "over the phone" experience. In the interest of full disclosure, I have never purchased anything from Zappos.com and, before today had never called their customer service line.

Once I got passed the prompt to select my language preference which was pretty much similar to all other prompts I've heard from other companies, their voicemail menu options immediately kicked it up a notch--and it was refreshing. The person's voice was full of energy, articulating a fun and exciting spin on an otherwise straightforward and oftentimes boring process. They also include an option for a joke of the day. Even if you're fuming mad and not in a joking mood when you call in, hearing the "joke of the day" option would have to bring even a little smile to your face. It did mine.

With Zappos, I was routed to a live person quickly--very quickly. In fact, I never even heard any hold music. How often can you say that about most companies? In my experience as a consumer, besides Zappos.com, the most responsive companies have consistently been Allen Edmonds, Pottery Barn, and Amazon.com (who also offers the "let us call you option" which is great).

Because I was curious to see if Zappos.com would use the same Kenny G inspired smooth jazz I hear so many times when calling other companies, I couldn't help but ask if I could hear their hold music. And the customer service representative happily obliged. I'm not sure of the genre, but I can only describe it as a soulful guitar riff. As with their voicemail menu, it was unique.

Sound quality is extremely important. If you're speaking to a customer service representative, you need to be able to hear them. There have been times when I'm trying to have a conversation with someone and it sounds like they are throwing a raucous birthday or retirement party in the next cube. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they're having a good time, but it is incredibly distracting.

Sound quality also applies to hold music. I'm not sure how it happens, but it seems like 99.5% of the time it sounds like it is being piped in through a blown out speaker that has been wrapped in a few sheets of wax paper. Not a big deal if you're only on hold for a few seconds, but spend 15-20 minutes listening to it and you are bound to become annoyed. As a business looking to drive customer satisfaction, I think we would all agree that the last thing you want is for an upset caller to get even more wound up just by listening to your hold music.

Managing your customer experience goes far a fancy Web site or Art Deco chairs in your lobby--it also relies greatly on how you manage your customer experience over the phone. When is the last time you took a long look at the process from soup to nuts, or in this case from the time they get the industry standard language prompt, to speaking with an actual customer service rep?

Shawn Graham helps job seekers and entrepreneurs work better. Find Shawn at CourtingYourCareer, on Twitter @ShawnGraham or via email at shawn(at)courtingyourcareer.com.

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3 Comments

  • Shawn Graham

    @Sarah - Live help does make a huge difference. In fact, I get creeped out by the automated customer service system used by one very large financial services firm that 1) laughs when I respond--really? and 2) tries to keep me from speaking to an actual person until the third time I say "customer service."

  • Sarah Ellis

    I completely agree with the fact that merchants or other companies with online storefronts should ensure they are giving their customers a quality “over the phone” experience. But merchants can take this over the phone experience a step further by equipping their site with live help (click to call or click to chat) technology, which eliminates the pains of a 1-800 number and waiting on hold. In the e-commerce world, giving your consumer the option to have a customer service representative call or start a chat with them directly definitely enhances the customer experience on any merchant’s website.

  • Shawn Graham

    @Stecy - A little humor can go a long way in certain circumstances. And it's always a good idea to stay calm at all times, even when you have someone reading you the riot act.