Having had many months of practice calling for services given that I was strictly adhering to the stay-at- home directive from our Health Departments, I have come to hate calling anywhere that provides services. In the early days of the lockdown, when many had to cancel travel plans, the airlines and affiliated loyalty businesses, saw an exponential use of their phone and web services by patrons looking to change, cancel or rebook flights. I was one of those many, and naively believed the introductory greetings of the automated message: “thank you for calling XYZ, your call is important to us, please wait until an available representative can take your call” or any variation of the sentiment. This of course was followed by the now very familiar, “we are experiencing an increase in calls volume and wait times may be longer than usual. We appreciate your patience; the next available agent will be with you shortly”, or “we are experiencing longer waits than usual; please try again later”. With the latter message, the call would just drop, not giving you the option to wait for 30 minutes or so on the phone listening to tinny muzak. I must say that the other day, one outfit that was experiencing an increase in calls volume, did ask me what type of music I would like to listen to while waiting: contemporary, jazz, classical. Precious! Other variations of the greetings were encouraging customers to use the online services, the mobile apps and other automated services put in place to serve us better. But my experience has been that either the internet sites were either overwhelmed by the usage, did not offer the particular service I was looking for, or in one instance, the site did not recognize me. My first go at having some issued resolved is to always go to the mobile app first ( I still am in awe of how powerful these apps can be), then the company’s website, and lastly the phone. It seems that lately, I always ended up having to use the phone.
In the first week of March, I used up 357 minutes trying to get through to an airline in order to 1) reset my profile on their newly upgraded website that did not recognize me as a “loyal” customer and therefore did not allow me to cancel the flight I was to board in three days, and 2) actually cancel the flight.
I often wondered when I heard and hear these disingenuous messages, how many “agents” are actually available to answer the calls. In a large corporation, like an airline or a bank for instance, are there 5 people answering the phone lines? 10? And if all the employees that used to be in the office are now being told to be at home, were they added to those “agents” answering the phone? Would make sense, no? Before the lockdown, I could go into an office and talk to a person in order to resolve an issue. Now that person is no longer physically available, it is understandable there will be an increase in phone traffic and, as a manager of XYZ, I should be preparing to deal with that.
One has to wonder if the corporations are in cahoots with the phone providers. In normal circumstances, my 500 minutes of phone time is more than enough – every month I end up having 423 minutes left on my plan. Now, with the new reality of having to deal mostly on the phone or on line to acquire services, I run out of minutes. 30 minutes wait time here, 20 minutes there, 5 minutes of “options” for me to choose from before actually getting in line to wait for the next available agent; it all adds up and unless my services can be dealt with after 5 pm on weekdays and on weekends, one by one the minutes fall into the numbing loop of tuneless music.
Why does a customer need to listen to a myriad of options ‘to serve us better’? Why not have a ‘triage receptionist’ who would know in no time with whom to connect you? Why is it that service has come to mean that I have to do all the figuring out before I get to the service? Shopping and services have become a weeding out exercise. Walk up and down the aisles to find your products ( and hopefully your sense of where a certain product should be is the same as the store’s), listen to phone options that if you were to map them out would look like some Chomskyan syntactic structure of a long compound sentence or some project management flow chart.
Kudos to the agents, though. When I was finally greeted with a name and a “how may I help you today?”, the agents were knowledgeable, courteous, helpful and above all patient.
The pandemic has created extraordinary circumstances not only from a health perspective but in all matters of daily life it seems. I just hope that the pandemic has not become the excuse for increased appalling on line and phone services to those who need them.