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November 14, 2006


Getting help for the helpers, whether via iPod, cell-phone text messaging, or standard e-learning, seems like it should fall under the category "natural reflex" for companies dependent on the sympathy of customers. But, like everyone who wades their way through the electronic anonymity of automated telephone systems or sends a frantic e-mail that goes unanswered for days, it seems like training on behalf of this sensitive need is less than laudatory.

But, that's easy for me to say since I've never been charged with training customer service reps, sales associates or wait staff. I imagine it's much harder than teaching other employees because they're usually young, unskilled labor that often has no intention of staying longer than summer break. Then, too, the company is probably pressured by budgetary constraints to rely more on the robotic than human voice. I wonder if this increasing reliance on the mechanical is why the human voices you do encounter are often robotic themselves?  Almost as if customer service associates are starting to emulate their automated stand-ins.

I say that because these people frequently sound pre-programmed. They usually have certain information--whether a product ID number or contact information--they have to ask you (in that  computerized way, of course, with a standard hello/how are you, included, no doubt) before finding out what's wrong. And there's often the pre-ordained (so by rote seems sometimes like a religious mantra if you call the same company enough) wrap-up involving intense pressure to cross-sell/upsell you a turbo-speed washing machine, plasma television set with panels extending from every side so an impromptu table can be formed around the screen, or maybe, if you really hit the jackpot, a florescent, voice-activated cell phone you glue to the ceiling over the bed so there's no need to reach for the phone first thing in the morning.

The unsurprising, nevertheless pricey, Goodbye Offering, points to another customer service concern--the need for better training to maximize the benefits of the outrageously expensive customer relationship management software you installed last year. Accompanying accessories won't delight, tempt or motivate the consumer in question if all those clever devices are even more expensive than the product they're designed to enhance.

Just as you should make the most of the automation you use in place of, or to "help" your reps, so too should you optimize the use of your humans. Instead of that Orwellian-creepy part of the greeting announcing that all your rants may be caught on tape for the purpose of improving customer service, why not cut your workers some slack?  Knowing their every "if, and, and but no" may serve as the centerpiece of the next performance-related meeting with their boss, may make them feel like they need to act like a ventriloquist's dummy, saying nothing more than what their management has put into their mouths via the script. Speaking of which, that can also go.

In place of tape recordings, scripts and well-regulated dos and don'ts, try a more rigorous pre-screening and a better work environment (up the pay, too, if you can) to attract better reps and associates who won't need you pulling the strings to set their plastic mouths to mode "go". 

I've heard it said science is the new religion. I'd throw technology into this new brand of faith as well. So, I understand how comforting it is to have humans who are almost as good as real androids. Brain in place of programmable buttons, who knew?


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