Friday, August 23, 2013

Seven Quick Takes: Customer (Dis)Service Addition

In which I will pass on my hard-earned wisdom on how to untangle the madness of automated voice response systems (otherwise known as automated raise your blood pressure systems).

1. I work at a law firm specializing in hospitals and health insurance companies (no we're not ambulance chasers: it's much less exciting). So I spend a significant portion of the day trying to squeeze accurate information from insurance companies by phone, and not all systems are created alike. There are different types of automated mazes, and each requires a different strategy. Think of yourself as Harry Potter in The Sorcerer's Stone: there are many obstacles, and each requires a different spell. (Note: if you try to turn this into a "Harry Potter is evil" thread, I will mock you before I block you).

2. The voice-recognition demon: there's something particularly grating about that disembodied voice that never understands what you say, yell and plead. Here's the thing: it's looking for specific, set categories to sift you into. It's not interested in your petty problems; it just wants to label your problem as A,B,C so it can properly determine your punishment.

How to defeat it: say representative repeatedly. Most people say "customer service," which is a mistake. For one thing it's two words, which complicates things. For another, the more sophisticated systems are designed to ignore your pleas for customer service, but most of them will crumble at the word representative if you say it forcefully enough.

3. The "press two for Spanish" option: even if you are a native-English speaker, press two. You will likely get a bilingual representative.

4. The numbers only system: boy I hate these. Sometimes you can press 0 repeatedly, but the newer ones are on to that method and will only respond to what they want. Nothing makes me angrier than hearing, "I'm sorry, that is not a valid response." The only valid response to this madness is to scream creative curses at it (if you're at home, that is). Sometimes hitting various numbers at random, not stopping to listen to its inane responses, will alert the system that you are incorrigible, and it will drop you in the queue.
Where does this guy work anyway?

5. Speaking of the queue: some systems now have a call-back method. Sometimes this is glorious: it does what it claims it will do, and you will receive a return call from a living human approximately around when you wanted it. Note: if you are calling health insurance companies, Blue Cross is actually good about this. Unfortunately, there is no quality control, so it's a gamble. I've had one call back from Amerigroup insurance that simply dropped me back into the queue where I had to wait an additional 40 minutes. It's a gamble worth risking though because when it works, it works.

6. If you're a repeat customer, or you expect to be, learn the ropes. Write down the categories and what your answer should be. Most (but not all, alas) systems will shut up and move you along if you press option 6 right away without going through all 12 irrelevant options. Some systems will carry on and make you consider homicide, but thankfully these are few and far between. Also, do your homework: if you already have your driver's license, insurance card etc. handy, it will save you much time and frustration.

7. If/ when you reach the holy grail and a representative answers the line, don't take no for an answer. Always push. If you consider yourself to be meek, timid etc, think of someone who you would affectionately call a bulldozer. Channel that person. You have endured the madness; you have passed the tests; you have defeated the obstacles. You will not be defeated by a high school graduate working at a call center with a headpiece. If they say "this isn't my department, let me transfer you," say "Do you have online access to that department?" This is the internet age, people. This "not my department" crap is ludicrous. You do NOT want to go back to the queue; often this just means they will conveniently drop the call, putting you back at square one. Whenever they say no, say "I understand that isn't an option. But I would like you to do X instead." Always push to the next thing. Did you ever do "yes, and" in a drama class? This is the "no, but" version.

Also, no matter how enraged you are by the time you reach them, be polite. Do not bite their head off, because you need their help. Remember: these people didn't create the automated system. They may be lazy and incompetent, but they are not the enemy. The people at the top are your enemy, but alas, they hire the minions to distract you.

If you manage to get a helpful, considerate and informative representative, you have won the Holy Grail. Get this person's direct extension, and hang it on your wall in big bold numbers. Know their name. Ask if they have direct fax. Become their best friend, because believe me, the dividends will pay.

And remember, the folks at "member services" tend to be much more patient than the ones I deal with. So be thankful; it could be worse.

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