Book Review: Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us

Spoken | August 9, 2016

HeidiBlog HS by Heidi Miller, Social Media/Online Community Manager

If you bring up the question of customer service, chances are you’ll soon be regaled with tales of blood-pressure-raising bad customer service experiences. Americans make billions of calls to customer service centers every year, and they have plenty to complain about: repeated transfers, unresponsive IVR systems, bored or unhelpful agents, and the land of eternal hold while hearing “your call is important to us.”

Picture 3 In Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us, Emily Yellin dives into the world of customer service and explores what it reveals about us as customers, the agents on the other end and the companies they represent. The book is full of research, analysis and a plethora of anecdotal evidence, recounting tales of both good and bad customer service.

Yellin begins with Random Acts of Rudeness, a study in the ire and exasperation that phone customer service experiences can bring. She quotes Bob Garfield of Advertising Age, who emphasizes the importance of good customer relations:

I mean, forget advertising. It is over. We are seeing the last dregs of advertising being the prime marketing tool. It’s going to be all about cultivating, exploiting and collaborating with consumers. And you can’t do that if they hate you.

True enough. And when customers are upset, they tell others–90% share their frustrating experiences with others. And in the age of blogs, Twiter, Facebook and YouTube (have you seen David Carroll’s hysterically funny complaint video, United Breaks Guitars), those 90% might be sharing with over a million friends online.

Yellin continues by exploring the history of the telephone and telephone service, tracking back to the time when operators said, “Play-uze” and consumers found complaining too costly to bother. Not so anymore. The key is listening, Yellin reports, beginning with a  tale of an AOL agent who was a bit too determined to keep the account, so that all the customer’s requests fell on deaf ears, and ending with Dell’s remarkable IdeaStorm website for gathering and responding to customer ideas.

Yellin reports no shortage of disdain for IVRs (Interactive Voice Response), the systems that often reflect the preferred path of the company, not the customer. Nearly everyone seems to hate “those automated agents” and often opt out to get to a real human, only to be dismayed to discover that the bad design of the IVR was mimiced in the minimal training of the customer service agents. It’s not all negative, though–Amtrak’s personable and open-ended Julie IVR was touted as being flexible, human and well-loved, as well as IKEA’s online chat avatar Annie.

And just to be thorough, two chapters are devoted to the folks at the other end of the line–the customer service reps dealing with endless streams of irate customers and the training they undergo in order to come across as considerate and patient, even when they don’t quite feel it. These are the folks who deal with racial slurs, unrealistic expectations and all the venting (some undeserved) of the customer’s day.

In the end, Yellin concludes, there isn’t a magic bullet. Until corporate culture changes to see customer service as an exercise in listening to and collaborating with customers, IVRs and CRM will continue to suffer with an undelying architecture that is company-driven, not customer-driven.

This book is a fantastic read for anyone who is passionate about customer service, either giving or receiving. The narrative is fun and engaging, with thought-provoking case studies interwoven with insightful analysis. Take a read–what do you think?

[Cross-posted to Talk It Up! blog]

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