Read Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us Before You Call Customer Service

Who’s got a bad customer service experience story?  If we were all in a giant room, I’m sure everyone’s hands would go up at that question.  In fact, we could probably regale each other with numerous stories of rude, stupid and just plain bad customer service behavior.  So, why has customer service on the phone become such an ordeal for everyone?

That’s what Emily Yellin, the author of Your Call is (Not That) Important to Us, wanted to know.  Her intention was to research what was going on at call centers so that she could “demystify the current maze of aggravation” for herself and the rest of us.

As it turns out, the corporations and the call centers are not conspiring against us.  In fact, they are just as frustrated with the current state of customer service as we are.  And this is what makes Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us such an interesting read.

A little background on the book

I received a review copy recently, but the book was actually published in 2009.  The review copy was for an updated 2010 paperback version. Customer service call centers can be found all over the world, and rather than speaking broadly about customer call centers, Emily focuses on two emerging locations, Latin America and Africa.  This was interesting to me–I had no idea that call centers were expanding to these two areas.

Another interesting update to the paperback edition is a new chapter on Twitter.  Social media has been a thorn in some companies’ sides – just ask Comcast! The company has had to spend millions doing the damage control after a few unhappy customers created videos, web sites and general complaints that went viral with social media.  Since then, they’ve hired Frank Eliason, who enlisted employees to monitor mentions of Comcast’s name and address them online.   They created @ComcastCares, and soon customers learned that they actually got better service if they Tweeted their problem than if they called.  This is an interesting trend.

Your Call will make you smile with satisfaction

Yellin really knows how to weave a story.  I enjoyed the beginning chapters where she puts our relationship with the telephone in context with a little historical perspective.  That, of course, starts with Alexander Graham Bell, the early days of AT&T and what was called “the operator problem.”

You see, the first call center operators were boys.  The problem was that these boys were yelling, screaming and swearing at the customers! To solve the problem, call centers transitioned to using women as operators.  As this shows, customer service hasn’t gotten worse – there have been issues from the start.  It’s how we deal and interact with technology and each other that makes the difference.

After this history, Yellin shares wonderful examples of bad customer service and the insane tactics that customers use to be heard.  I found myself smiling with sweet revenge and wishing I had been so creative with my dissatisfaction.

One of my favorite chapters was “To Send Us Your Firstborn, Please Press or Say “One.” This chapter is filled with hilarious examples of automated attendants.  There’s IKEA’s Anna, which is an automated chat system.  It was entertaining to read about – but even more entertaining to head over to the Web site and talk to Anna myself.  (See image of my chat on left.)

Then there is the story of “Amtrak Julie,” Amtrak’s  automated phone system that’s gotten rave reviews from customers and the ultimate compliment by being featured on “Saturday Night Live.”  Here is asnippet of the SNL skit featuring Jon Hader (Napoleon Dynamite) and Amtrack Julie on a date:

Hader: Um…what do you think Julie?  A latte or a cappuccino, or something?

Julie: Did you say latte? Or Cappuccino?

Hader: Uh..well, I said both.  Do you want a latte or cappuccino?

Julie: My mistake.  Cappuccino would be great.

Julie (interjecting): Before we go any further, let me get some information.

Hader: Sure.

Julie: Please say your age……I think you said 19.  Did I get that right?

Hader: No. Twenty-nine.

Julie:  I think you said nine.  Did I get that right?

This was a fun and educational chapter about the advantages and disadvantages of choosing and using automated attendants.

What I liked about the book

Your Call is both entertaining and educational. Each chapter takes you through aspects of call center customer service, explains the background and context, outlines good stories and bad experiences, and then leaves you to make your own decision based on what you’ve read.

I really liked Yellin’s tone as well.  She wrote as a journalist, not as an evaluator.  This was especially effective because the book is so full of customer complaints that if she had taken a point of view, the reader would become more focused on her opinion than on the circumstances and the lesson. (Emily Yellin is @eyellin on Twitter ; and her Web site is Emily Yellin.)

My only peeve about this book is that it contains yet another reference to Zappos.  This is not a slight on Zappos or the author. Being included as a great customer service example in yet another business book deserves kudos. But it would be nice to see another company as an example for a change.  Isn’t there any other contemporary company doing it right?

Read this before you call customer service

We’re all somebody’s customer, and one benefit Your Call provides us as consumers is a little insight into what happens behind the scenes at a call center.  On the surface, it should be easy.  And if Zappos has figured it out, what’s stopping the rest of them?

Read this book and get some ideas about how customer service can be improved.

Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."