5 Ways to Disengage Customers From Your Business; the BT Experience

Over the last few months I have had a number of problems with my broadband service, primarily losing connection three or four times a day and sometimes for hours at a time. For someone who works from home and relies upon email and internet access, this is incredibly frustrating and annoying. For my kids who are on their school holidays it can be equally frustrating when they too cannot use their Xbox live or connect to their friends on social media. This usually leads them to my door, with the often heard words “we can’t get on the internet” with me replying “neither can I, I will call BT” said with some trepidation due to previous experiences of the BT contact centre land.


Armed with a fresh cup of tea, my mobile phone and iPad, I decide it is time to call BT to try and finally resolve this problem. Two hours and twenty minutes later I finally put the phone down, in the knowledge that my broadband is still not working properly and I may or may not receive a new home hub on Friday.

Instead of detailing this journey word for word I will highlight the five things that helped create such a poor experience, and in the process, share my thoughts on how other organisations can learn from this.

  1. 1.    Make it as difficult as you can for customers to speak to a human being

When BT said it is good to talk, I foolishly thought they meant to a human being and not an interactive voice response system. Clearly, I was wrong. Out of the two hours plus I spent on the call I would guess that only 20/30 minutes were actually spent talking to a real person. This of course places even greater pressure on the advisor, as by the time the customer finally makes it through the IVR, it is quite likely that they will be displaying a range of negative feelings and emotions associated with their experience so far. Personally I felt bored, frustrated, irritated, annoyed, confused and certainly not valued or cared for.

A note for BT, it is not good enough to train your people to offer what I term ‘half apologies’. This demotivates employees and leaves customers with a sense that these are just empty words, repeated endlessly and without any real sincerity.

So my tip for organisations looking to improve their customer experience is make it easy for customers to speak to a human being. After all, we are social creatures that like to interact and whatever the technologists tell you the majority of customers would prefer to speak to a human being more               often than not.

  1. 2.    Create infinite menus and sub menus that act like a virtual prison for customers

If there was an award for the over use of IVR then BT would be the hands down winner. I lost count at the number of menus and sub menus I had to navigate in order to try and locate the right team to deal with my enquiry. At one point, I seemed to go into a trance and ended up missing the number to press. This then led to the wrong department, who then redirected me back into the IVR, brilliant.

IVR is a good tool for routing calls to the right destination if used appropriately and not as a barrier to speaking to a human being. You should consider multi skilling agents so that more calls go straight to a human being and customers do not spend more time than is necessary trying to break out of this         virtual prison.

I would also suggest you limit the number of ironic messages you provide customers with such as “we are sorry to keep you waiting, your call is important to us” etc as this tends to only irritate customers further. It leaves them thinking, ‘if my call is so important, bloody well answer it then’. My personal favourite is “we are experiencing a high volume of calls today, please visit our website or call back later”. This is not ideal when you have been in the virtual prison for an hour and you cannot access the website due to the problem you are calling about. BT, I do not care that you are experiencing high call volumes, that’s your problem, do not make it mine.

  1. 3.    Keep customers on hold for long periods and make as many call transfers as possible

As you work your way around the IVR and finally reach the option that may lead you to a human being, you are still faced with the fact that there appears to be only a skeleton staff to actually answer the call, which of course means you join the queue and can enjoy the dulcet tones of whatever on hold music is offered. Is anyone still using Greensleeves? If you are going to keep customers on hold for periods of 10-20 minutes at a time, you really need to consider your scheduling and how much damage this is doing to the customer experience in order to remain lean.

What is equally frustrating is when you get off hold and are then told you are going to be transferred to the another department because this team do not deal with this type of call. One transfer maybe, but four call transfers during one interaction really is too much and suggests a need to either recruit more advisors or multi skill the ones you already have. It might also be useful to ensure your advisors know what each department actually does before blindly transferring in the hope you will become someone else’s problem.

  1. 4.    Ensure customers go through repeat verification, security and their story as a part of every call transfer

Now this is where I expect technology to do its thing. I have entered BT’s contact centre land, and have finally got to my first human being. I go through the verification and security process, and tell them my story only to find out they cannot deal with this and will of course need to transfer my call. As you will know, I am back in the IVR prison, on hold, listening to inane messages and then finally getting back to a human.

Great, time to crack on! Hang on, it’s another security/verification process to go through. Why do I need to do this every time I am transferred? Would someone really impersonate me mid call to experience this journey of misery in my place? Do different departments have different information on me? Is there no single source of customer data and history? Is it real time? Why do I need to endlessly repeat my story to different people?

If you want to lose customers and alienate people this is a technique that really works and will again place greater pressure on your agents who will more than likely be faced with customers displaying the same sort of negative feelings and emotions as mentioned earlier. This means more difficult calls that may take longer to resolve and in turn increase contact centre cost to serve.

  1. 5.    Quality of interaction

Contact centres are by their very nature remote, and with the ever growing reliance on technology, I do wonder if we are trying to reduce or replace the human interaction for all but the most essential of contacts. While some simple requests like checking your bank statement can be automated or viewed online now, many customers still want to be able to speak to a human being as part of their interactions with             your organisation.

What is evident through numerous studies and research is that ‘quality of the interaction’ is critical to how customers perceive and experience your brand. If you want to improve customer service and the experience customers have when contacting you, you have to focus on improving ‘quality of interaction’.

I had probably five or six different interactions during my call with BT, all of varying degrees of quality. Like many contact centres, BT often leave you feeling processed and treated as though you are just another customer off the conveyor belt and like they don’t really care. Even when they are trying to apologise and empathise, it appears scripted and with little meaning.

This over processing and the transactional nature of many contact centres is, I believe, one of the main reasons why even now large numbers of customers feel that customer service in the UK is poor and why the largest numbers of complaints are usually about the service givers attitude, behaviour and demeanour. Interestingly knowing what we know, some organisations still spend little if any time on developing ‘quality of interaction’ and improving conversational quality. Instead, they invest in and develop more systems and technologies in the belief that this is what is needed to improve customer experience. I believe they are wrong and in effect, are denigrating the critical role that employees can play in the delivery of an organisation’s customer experience.

The lesson here for BT and other service providers is that if you make it hard for customers to speak to a human being, you rely too heavily on technology to deliver your customer experience, and you fail to invest in developing ‘quality of interaction’ then I think you are destined to deliver consistently average experiences. This will not only result in lost customers, but also in disengaged employees; both of which will hit your bottom line hard.

If you would like to find out more about our unique approach to improving customer service, please call me on 01273 601820 or email me at tony@futurevisiontraining.co.uk to reserve a place on our forthcoming master class ‘Transforming Customer Service and Quality of Interaction, the emotional connection’.

Tony Dain, MD Future Vision

Tony Dain

Tony is the co-founder and MD of Future Vision. He has been working in customer service and contact centres since 1993 including frontline retail and contact centre roles, before becoming a supervisor and team coach. In 1997 he joined CCC, one of the first training organisations dedicated to customer service and contact centres, where he established the telebusiness function. After three years he became the sales and services director before leaving to set up Future Vision.

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