Answering the Call Is Just the First Step

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I see more and more companies moving away from forced self-service to some degree of customer service. It matters not if they offer customer service by telephone, text chat, or email. What’s important is their attempt to provide support to customers and not let them flounder. This is good for consumers, companies, workers, and the contact center industry. Everyone wins.

While some companies hide their customer service channels behind a wall of self-service options and FAQs, others make their offerings prominent. They are the champions. They want to make it easy for customers and potential customers to reach them. They’ve figured out that it’s good business to actually help the people who buy their products – the same folks who make it possible for them to stay in business.

Unfortunately some companies try to control the method of contact. They still don’t fully understand that the customer is important, but at least these businesses are doing something. Other companies limit their hours of availability. They’ve probably decided that they can’t justify having customer service staff work on the third shift or outside of regular business hours. News flash: Outsource the work to provide 24/7 coverage on a cost-effective basis.

Smart companies offer a full range of contact options: phone, chat, email, and even fax and snail mail for those so inclined. And they offer them 24/7. I applaud them. They have the right vision and understand the importance of providing support to their current customers and prospective buyers.

Yet this is only the beginning. Answering the phone, accepting a chat request, or reading an email is just the first step. A critical step to be sure, but execution makes the difference.

Yesterday I hung up the phone in frustration. I had called a company with two questions. The first question, which I assumed was the easy one, produced only confusion. We were both talking, but we weren’t communicating. I succinctly gave the needed background for my query and then asked my question.

“So what’s your question?” she said.

I repeated what I had just asked, word for word.

But instead of answering it, she went off on a tangent. I think she heard one word, keyed in on it, jumped to a wrong conclusion, and went off on a rabbit trail that had no bearing on my question.

On my third attempt she answered my question, but I have no confidence that she gave me the right answer. In fact, I have no confidence that she even understood what I was asking.

However, she did understand my second question – but she gave me a quick answer packed with company jargon that made no sense to me. She used one phrase repeatedly, and when I asked what that meant, she explained it by using that same phrase. Again, we had a failure to communicate.

If this person had received any customer service training, she surely didn’t show any evidence of it. I suspect she knew her company’s basic offering well, but she lacked the ability to effectively talk about it.

I thought about calling back in hopes I’d get someone else who could actually help me, but my past interactions with this organization gave me little expectation for a different outcome. I would switch vendors if not for the fact that they offer the best package for the lowest price.

Though I was frustrated with this agent, I fully suspect she was frustrated with me – or at least with our call and the struggle we had for effective communication.

Better training would have made the difference. Not product training, but customer service techniques, listening skills, and some side-by-side coaching.

I commend the company for answering the phone when I called. That’s the first step. The next step is to actually help the people who contact them. That’s the key to customer service.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at

%d bloggers like this: