Slamming the door on customers


A few days ago, I called the phone company to report a billing error. After making my way through a fairly simple menu system, I got to the billing department. What I heard next was quite surprising. Even though I called during business hours, they said there were too many calls in the queue, and told me to call back later. I couldn’t even choose to hold or leave a message. The automated system hung up, and that was that.

Apparently, if there’s more than a certain number of people waiting, or the estimated hold time is over a certain length, the system just tells everyone to call back later. In my case, I waited about a minute, called a different number, and got through just fine. But I still felt insulted by the initial response. Would I have left a message or stayed on hold for more than say five minutes? Probably not. But something about the finality of the response bothered me. Plus, telling people to call back when the call volume is already high just makes the problem worse.

I’m well aware that running a high-volume call center is a complex undertaking, with all sorts of queue management and IVR design issues to consider. But in cases where you really can’t take any more customers into the queue, try to give them options so their call wasn’t a total waste. My recommendation? Rather than the usual choices to leave a voice message or hold for a very long time, it would be nice to just enter your phone number for a callback. Then the system would give you a confirmation number and a time window when they’ll be in touch. With this approach, the customer never wastes their time on a dead-end call, and the call center can politely defer some of the calls until after the peak volume has subsided.