Shouldn’t you know what your customers know?

Regardless of your type of business, it makes a difference to find out

What a dashboard! All computerized, updated in real-time, with meaningful graphs that let this manager know just how well her call center is running.

She knew the average wait time customers were enduring, so she could add or reassign customer service reps throughout the day as needed. She could see how many customers gave up waiting and at what stage of the process they quit. There were all kinds of interesting measurements.

So I asked her if she had any idea what it felt like to be her customer.

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever called your 800 number without letting them know who you are just to see what it feels like?”

Of course she hadn’t, nor was she so inclined, but I can be persuasive. 

“We’ll use my cell phone, as they don’t know me, and I can put it on speakerphone, so we can both hear.”

She looked painfully uncomfortable, but that’s how we learn what we really need to know instead of what we want to hear.

“For English, press 1 …” And what followed was a litany of press this, press that, on and on. Some of it was so confusing that we had to press 8 to hear the instructions over again. Much of the requested – or should I say demanded – information was completely unnecessary. At each level, we had to listen to each of the options, and the one we wanted, to speak with a real person, was always the very last when it was available.

Make a difference

From a call center’s perspective, it certainly made sense if you were trying to minimize the amount of time your people talk to customers. From an exasperated customer’s perspective, it was infuriating.

After much dialing, we finally got to, “All of our representatives are currently assisting other customers. Please stay on the line, and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.” Then, they piped in this ditzy new-age music that was particularly annoying.

“All right, all right, I think I get the point. Hang up!”

“I’m sorry, but we’re not there yet. We haven’t spoken to a live person. I think you can see why so many customers drop off before they get to this point, but let’s wait and see how customers, who tough it out, are rewarded.” 

The music was making this especially hard to do. They should have been playing some nice soothing soft classical music, perhaps a Brahms lullaby. 

It could have been worse. They could have forced us to listen to mindless commercials about how good they are …

She could see on her dashboard that the number of customers waiting wasn’t sufficient for her to want to add more people. Now that she was waiting, she was tempted, but I discouraged her.

After about 10 or 12 minutes a really harried voice came on the line. “Thank you for calling XYZ this morning.” Then she proceeded to ask for much of the information we had already punched in. Our manager friend was ready to explode, so I interacted with the rep. When she claimed to have no previous record of us, we admitted who we were.

It would be interesting to try again in another month or two to see if there’s any improvement. Regardless of how many measurements, staff meetings, quality checks and everything else we have, we’ll never know what it feels like to be our customer until we become one. If you can’t do it because you’d be immediately recognized, hire someone to do it and report to you.

Regardless of your type of business, become your own customer and see what you learn. Your customers all know it, and they tell each other and potential customers as well. 

Shouldn’t you know it too, so you can make the kind of changes that will really make a difference? 

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the
United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or