Thursday, September 14, 2006

Techno-Eco Extremism- Cut Down All PhoneTrees

I admit it. I am willing to be known as a techno-eco extremist. I hate trees

No not the green ones outside my window. They are just fine. Them I like. It is the technological trees. The telephone ones with trunks rooted in poor customer service. Trees with unfathomable branches of saccharin-voiced recorded messages that schools and companies use to keep people away from real people and real service. The trees I want to cut down are technological phone trees that are designed to do everything they can to make sure you cannot talk to a person, or obtain the information you seek, or solve a problem you called about.

I want to pull out my virtual chainsaw and cut down whole forests of phone trees that make certain callers obtain the very worst service ever available; never gets the information he or she wants; and makes sure the caller slams down the phone with the gusto of frustration and anger. And as a result, have major deleterious effects on customer service and enrollment. Potential students turn away from schools that can’t hear or see the student from the trees.

Telephoning is the second most common method of contacting schools. The most common is the web. People are often directed by the web to call the school and talk to an admissions counselor. A practice that makes little sense by the way for two reasons. First, the student is on the web and seeking to obtain particular information. If they have chosen to use the web, they have indicated a preference for it so why make them leave it? The answer from many schools is that they cannot supply the particular, personalized information the student is seeking. Their website is not capable of doing that. But with a simple add-on such as Leadwise™ (
) a website can become a powerful provider of detailed and personalized information requested by potential students. Excuse gone.

The second reason given for directing students to the telephone is that it allows more personalized contact. Students can speak to a real person. If they can make it through the forest of telephonic horrors that defy allowing the student to get the warm, fuzzy of speaking to a person. The welcome of “Listen closely, our menu has changed” (as if anyone really cares about your menu) is a real compassionate opening for creating empathy with a school. Will the menu be on a quiz during orientation I wonder?

Students do not give a damn about your menu. All they care about is getting some particular information or a solution to a problem. So they have to listen to the long drawn out list of what numbers go to what possible extension. “If you wish to talk with the bursar, press 4. If you wish to talk with the registrar, press 6. If you wish to talk to a person and tell them why you are calling because you don’t know that academic office you need is titled, press your tummy and make a wish because we are trying to keep you from talking with an operator so we can save money while we lose you as a potential enrollment….”

Realize that students dislike answering systems and phone trees as much as you do. They despise holding on the phone trying to get to a person as much as you do. They want to talk with a real person a much as you do. They do not want to have to enter their student number in an attempt to gain assistance only to be connected to a person finally who starts the conversation with “may I have your student number?” They enjoy that about as much as you dislike entering your number and being asked for it again and again.

They do not believe the phone message which tells them they can get their issue resolved by going to your web. They were probably just directed by the website to a phone number that is now telling them to go to the website. They know it is a continuous loop designed to make them go away and leave me alone.

They also loathe the statement that is heard when a caller finds a way to get to an operator. “We are experiencing unusually high volume but your call is important to us and will be answered as soon as possible in the order it was received. Your wait time should not exceed 12 minutes….” If a call is important, it should not have to take twelve minutes to get to it. What the caller hears is “Frankly you and your call do not matter to us at all. If it did, we would hire enough people to answer the phones since we always experience high volume since we only have one person answering the phone.” If the student does wait on the phone, you can be certain he or she is on the web looking for another school.

The answer? Get rid of the automated phone system. Hire real people to answer the phone but make certain they are trained appropriately. This is what FACTS Tuition Management (
800-624-7092) did after it tried a phone tree and found out that its client colleges were not happy. FACTS president David Byrnes realized he didn’t like talking to a machine so why would anyone else want to do so. FACTS brought in some great receptionists whose abilities on the phone make every caller feel valued.

Columbus State Community College (OH) (
800-621-6407) solved any and all phone answering problems by setting up what is likely the very best call center of any college, and maybe any business too. All general calls go to the phone center to assure every caller is treated well and really helped. The people who answer the phones at CSCC are empowered to solve most any and every issue or problems from class schedule changes to paying bills by credit card to buying books and more. It’s a great model.

But, just having a person on the other end of the phone does not guarantee good customer service. They must know how to use as an instrument of customer service. And this is an art that is missing in the lives of many people. Having a person answer the phone with “State College. Yuh, what dya want?” or “Hold on for a minute please. I’m busy” as I heard during a school doesn’t help much I agree.

The answer- read the previous blog posting and educate people on how to use the telephone. There are training programs out there that can teach most people how to answer a phone. If you want to find out about some of them, call me at 413.219.6939. I will answer the phone myself and will help you.

If it is a business necessity to use telephonic technology, keep it simple and always provide a shortcut to a real person. More on this in an upcoming blog or contact me for help.


Have a comment or question? Please post them.
You can reach Neal Raisman by email at
or 413.219.6939

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