The Trials and Triumphs of Telephone Support

Phone Interactions Can Save or Ruin Your Business

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

A lot of customer service occurs over the telephone. This growing trend leaves me concerned about some things and excited about others.

A Shortsighted Attitude

On the negative side, consider a large telecommunications company that provides cell phone, internet, and long distance. Or a large national banking institution. You’ve heard of them both. And they’re notorious for their abysmal record of poor customer service. 

If I shared their names, there’s a good chance you or someone you know has had an unpleasant experience with them. To call it unpleasant is kind. Uncaring, unconscionable, and unethical are more accurate characterizations.

With these companies, once a nontypical problem occurs, there’s a strong likelihood they’ll never resolve it. This isn’t an overstatement. People have only so much patience. Then they give up. Excessive runaround, time spent on hold, and limited energy to pursue a satisfactory resolution end up overwhelming frustrated customers. They accept the problem or switch providers.

Although some of these companies’ frontline staff care and try their best, too many do not. Regardless, there seems to be cumbersome bureaucracy thwarting every move and complex support systems that make no allowances for nonroutine problems.

A Solution for Success

There’s an opportunity awaiting these two companies—and others like them—if they can just provide effective telephone customer service. With best-in-class phone support, their cancellation rates would plummet, and customer satisfaction levels would skyrocket. They’d receive a lot less negative press.

Are these companies simply too big or do they offer too many services to be effective? Are their help desks mismanaged, bogged down by bureaucracy, or smothered with complexity? 

I suspect the underlying reason is that upper management treats support as an expense to minimize. But exemplary customer service is good business. Investing in customer support is an investment in your future.

A Positive Outcome

I experienced the trials and triumphs of phone support after my house took a minor lightning strike. The surge affected our phone, internet, and entertainment services. I called my satellite provider and spoke with Beth in the Oklahoma call center. This was the first time I encountered a call center agent telling me her location. It seemed hokey and an overreaction to the backlash against offshore call centers, but it helped me establish a personal connection with Beth from Oklahoma. 

While waiting for various diagnostics to run, we had time to chat, which I enjoyed and found preferable to sitting in silence on hold. She soon scheduled a service call for the next day. The technician fixed the problem fast and restored service.

I wish I could say the same for my phone and internet service providers. They both required multiple phone calls. Then there were the missed commitments, wrong instructions, and conflicting information. 

That’s no way to run a business.

Customer Service Success Tip

Listen to what customers say about your service. Then do one thing to improve it. Once complete, fix the next item on the list.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.