Why Do We Hate Voicemail “Customer Service” Systems?

Automated phone systems that provide assistance to customers should at most play quiet, light music or sound a mild tone every ten seconds or so, when they put you on hold. That way you can continue comfortably to do what you were doing, and put the phone on speaker or hold it on your shoulder, until someone picks up the other end of the line. The too-frequent alternative subjects the caller to repeated recorded messages that are useless beyond the initial iteration and needlessly interrupt thereafter. It’s even worse when they vary the recordings, especially to advertise something. Then not only are you forced to wait, you are periodically distracted and must process messages for products and services in which you are not, at the moment, even slightly interested. Who enjoys such an experience? It’s like being transported to the hospital while being subjected to a sales pitch for the ambulance attendant’s auto-repair business.

But the most annoying business voicemail practice is the one where the chirpy recorded voice suggests that if I am really in a hurry I should consult the company’s website. At this point I am ready to yell something rude, both because this kind of announcement is a plainly hostile attempt to make me go away — Our time is more valuable than yours! — and because it ignores the possibility that I am calling precisely because I couldn’t find what I needed on the Web site, which is usually what happened. So they are doubly incompetent. They should be soliciting (and using) my feedback. Instead I get the feeling that I am calling one of those old-fashioned businesses where the phone rings for ten minutes straight while the guy at the counter gabs with the mailman.

The people who design these voicemail systems should consider the possibility that abusing captive callers may antagonize some of them into doing business elsewhere. It certainly has had that effect on me. And the way for a business to deal with this situation is not via the default, Dilbertesque response of making voicemail so burdensome that using the company’s Web site becomes the lesser evil. It is to improve the Web site to the point where customers will want to use it, will enjoy using it. Some companies have caught on, but many continue to act as if they think they’re doing customers a favor by answering the phone. I have a low threshold for avoiding such companies now, and I’ll bet that a lot of other consumers do too.

[I wrote the first draft of this post while on hold.]

7 thoughts on “Why Do We Hate Voicemail “Customer Service” Systems?”

  1. My cable modem company has an automated message like that. I go through the menu and press the buttons to indicate that my cable modem isn’t working, and while I wait for someone to answer my call, I am forced to listen to a message telling me to check the website, which I have effectively already told them is not possible! Talk about infuriating…

  2. couldn’t agree more – they should have the option that says something to the effect of if you haven’t been able to find what you need on their website, please press # and then immediately your call is diverted to a service person who not only assists you but makes a note somewhere of what you couldn’t do on the web and why and then the IT people get cracking on a solution. why is this so hard??

  3. Anita,

    It isn’t so hard. For example, the credit card issuers that I have used are pretty good about this. And there are lots of VM systems where you can quickly reach a human by pressing # or 0 but that don’t advertise this capability (they should). I assume that businesses that force you to wade through all the menus and buttons, do so because they don’t think there’s a problem with doing it that way. (And how would they know different, given that they don’t usually make it easy to submit feedback?)

  4. The systems that irritate me worst ask (demand of) me to enter a series of numbers using the touch tone keypad on my phone. (Great on a desk phone, hard to do with a handheld where the earpiece prompting for a number must be pressed to the cheek, while the keys for entering the number must be pulled down to belly-height and scrutinized in order to answer the question…) So, having juggled the phone enter my 16 digit account code, my problem code, etc … I get a human being who ASKS FOR THE SAME INFORMATION AGAIN, and asks me to WAIT, again, while they access my file on their internal systems. SO the voice mail is not passing this data to the customer service tech … what are they collecting it for? The inefficiency is compounded by the violation of privacy — collected data for unspecified and possibly unconsented purposes.

    I’ve taken to announcing to the humans on line that, because their service is important to me and in order to ensure accuracy, our conversations may be being recorded …

  5. All true. But even worse is getting in the car, driving to a place of business and then being forced to wait for assistance as the clerk takes phone call after phone call.

  6. Noel,

    I agree with you. A competent business should be able to answer the phone and respond to visitors and maintain a useful Web site, all without inconveniencing anybody. It can be done.

Comments are closed.