Proactive Recognition: Reading Your Customers’ Minds

One of the reasons I love Google and I always use Chrome is because they absolutely rock at predicting what I want. I type “can grow bl“, and suddenly what I want – “can blueberries grow in shade” pops up, saving me the effort of having to type a single letter more.

This is how business-customer communications should be. Good customer service should try to predict what I want when I call or text in. We call it Proactive Recognition, the emphasis being on Proactive, because good customer service means the company is initiating the effort to find out what the customer wants.

For example, if I’m calling your automotive repair shop because you’re fixing my car, your system should start the call with “Hi Jeremy, are you calling about the status of your Honda Element?

Even better would be “Hi Jeremy, we are currently waiting on parts for your Honda Element. Would you like to talk to someone about it?” This not only recognizes what I’m calling about, but also gives me a bit of information – which could be enough for me.

Let’s go even further: your shop automatically texts me with status updates: “Jeremy, we just received all the parts for your Honda Element. We hope to have it fixed in the next 1-2 business days.

Sounds like crazy talk, I know, but some phone and text systems play well with other systems, allowing a company to create flows like those above. To throw a little jargon at you, systems like OneReach allow users to add API integrations to their voice and text flows and then change what the caller hears/reads accordingly. It’s pretty sweet.

Think about all the uses for this and how you – as a customer – would appreciate them:

  • Your favorite pizza joint: “Hi Maurice, are you calling to order your usual, a large Hawaiian pizza?
  • Your doctor’s office: “Hello Jane, you have an appointment with Dr. Professional tomorrow at 10:45 AM.
  • Your internet service provider: “Hi Dave, we’d like to apologize for charging you such an ungodly amount of money this month…” – well, we can wish, can’t we?

Everyone Hates Phone Trees

“I really appreciate Company X’s large confusing phone tree!”

– said no one ever.

We all know the drill – we need something from Company X, but Company X can’t afford to staff an army to answer phones, so they wave the magic “phone tree” wand, spin us in a few circles, and hope that somehow we will be happy with that.

For me this translates into one single mode of operation when dealing with companies: try to avoid – at all costs – having to call them. I don’t want to listen to their menus. I don’t want to be put on hold. I don’t want to enter my account information multiple times because your magic phone tree isn’t powerful enough to remember it.

The funny part to me is that the money-saving phone tree systems typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I didn’t go to “Enterprise Business School”, but I’m pretty sure spending that much money to irritate your customers is bad for business. Especially when there are significantly cheaper better options available.

Not every automated phone system is terrible. I once called Comcast and was pleasantly surprised to hear something like the following (I’m paraphrasing here):

“Hi Jeremy, thanks for calling customer support. We’re pretty busy right now, so would you like us to call you back when someone’s available?”

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! They know who I am without me entering some 20 digit account number! They know I want to talk to someone! They don’t want to waste my time!

Of course, this kind of “custom” solution costs a fortune and requires an entire team of consultants and developers, right? Nope. There are solutions out there, including OneReach, that are affordable and can be set up by anyone with basic computer skills.

Consider this your customer support PSA: don’t go chasing after those “cost effective” phone tree systems just so you can give your customer’s the run-around. Find a better solution, one that treats customers like people.

Conference Lurkers

My co-worker and I attended a conference in Chicago this year, and it became clear pretty quick which one of us was the “networker”. While my co-worker bounced from discussion to discussion, I stood at a distance and observed. I am just not very good (nor interested in becoming good) at talking with total strangers about their product.

That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in their services or products – I just didn’t feel like waiting in line to say, “Hey, that looks neat.”

I also wasn’t about to write down a bunch of web addresses or collect business cards either. What would have been really neat is if some of those booths had a number I could text to sign-up for a newsletter, get whitepapers or even download a vcard to contact them later.

I would have to imagine this would be an awesome opportunity for the people in the booths too, as they wouldn’t be missing out on leads just because their booth is over-crowded or because stand-offish attenders like myself won’t get close enough to say “hi”.

Of course, every lurker like myself who does text in has also just given that business a legitimate contact phone number, which has to be nice in a world of fake-email-address-sign-up.

Creative business could find a way to up the incentive to text in, from trivia questions (“What car does Eric Schmidt of Google drive?”) to raffles and even text-based games. Frankly, any of those ideas sound more fun to me than a business card bump, lurker or not.

Elitch’s Phone Tree of Doom

Had this experience yesterday: my wife and I had free tickets for our kids to go to Elitch Garden’s amusement park, but didn’t know if we could use them on a holiday. My wife called them up and got their automated voice system.

Now she needed an actual person to talk to, but as is par for the course, this phone tree was trying to prevent her getting one easily. And yep, they succeeded in that goal.

Press 0 if you’d like to speak to an operator.” She did, heard a beep, then got disconnected. She tried this five more times, and each time the system hung up on her.

We didn’t want to make the 30-minute drive with three hyped-up kids only to find out at the gates that our tickets weren’t valid, so she kept calling. At this point, the phone number stopped working altogether: “We’re sorry, we cannot connect you to that number…” My guess is that their phone system wasn’t able to handle the holiday call volume.

Double-fail. Sorry, but at this point, I was willing to change all our plans just because I couldn’t talk to someone on their end. Hopefully someone from Elitch Gardens will read this and get a phone system that doesn’t lose them business.