How to make your customer helpline less frustrating – insights from experiencing a really bad one

I was at a cash deposit machine with my mum to deposit cash to pay for my dad's taxi rental. After accepting our cash notes, the machine was not able to record our deposit details nor return back our notes. After printing a receipt that indicate the error and showing a number for us to call, the screen was reverted back to its home screen, ready to service the next customer.

Luckily my mum brought her mobile phone, there are no phones anywhere near the machine for customers to call to the helpline. Dialing 11 numbers got me to connected to an answering machine. There were a few questions that I had to struggle to interpret (due to the nearby noisy market) and some options that I had to select (or not select) in order to get to a human-friendly human.

If I had interpreted and remembered correctly, the questions are:

  1. Welcome to our bank's call center blar blar blar. To select English press "1", To select Chinese press "2" (in Chinese).
  2. For overseas atm banking press some number, if not keep holding (in another words, don't do anything).
  3. Please enter your NRIC, passport or savings account number; if you are using the services of phone banking, press star; if you are not a customer, press some other number.
  4. Blar blar blar blar blar blar, to speak to a customer service officer, press some number (I had forgotten that number but goodness, I could finally speak to a human).

Btw, that was the third consecutive attempt to the helpline. The first two attempts were made so that I can understand the instructions coming from the answering machine. There were virtually no pauses between accepting an option and reciting the next question. I cannot catch the first few words of the question in the first attempt and there were no option to repeat some of the questions.

The customer service officer who attended to me was a polite chap. He asked me for my savings account number and the deposit amount and told me that the bank will credit the amount next Tuesday, which was 3 days later. If that customer service officer was nasty, I guess I may cancel all my accounts with the bank immediately, but thankfully, he was not.

My insights on the user experience aspect as a slightly frustrated customer

Now, if I am to leave the post as it is, this will be a complaint post. Although this should be the job of the bank's business analyst, but I would like to offer some of my suggestions to improve the entire experience.

Put a phone near the machine that can reach a customer service officer who can handle such issues at the press of a button

Perhaps most people own a mobile phone, but there may be situations when the mobile phone is not usable. By placing a phone with direct access to someone who can solve the problem right away, it will help take away a lot of the frustration from the possibly distraught consumer.

Show a number that can reach a customer service office who can handle such issues

Perhaps maintaining a phone connection at every ATM area is expensive and not feasible, but how about a number that can reach a human who can solve the issue directly? That will provide some context to the phone call. We will not need to ask the customer to select the service he/she is using, what problem he/she is facing.

Asking so many redundant questions is akin to adding oil to fire. Note that for every question, the customer had to:

  • Wait for that machine to finish the sentences.
  • Understand the message(s) that the machine is trying to convey.
  • Filter the action steps from the instruction message.
  • Remember the option to proceed.
  • Bring mobile phone to eye level (this is sensitive information, no way am I going to put my phone on loud speaker mode.)
  • Look for the key on the mobile phone keypad to press.
  • Press the key.
  • Bring mobile phone to the ear.
  • Hope that the line gets connected to a human.

The environment could possibly make matters worse. For my case, the nearby noisy market made the entire experience more challenging - the audibility of the answering machine was terrible.

Why can't we just point the customer to a human being immediately? Customers who call the helpline are probably frustrated and lost, don't make things difficult for them.

Have a pause between the selection of an option and the recital of a question.

If the previous suggestion cannot be implemented, the user experience of the helpline would have already gotten a C grade. Well, if is inevitable that all customers calling to the call center be directed to one single line, allow a pause of 3 to 5 seconds between the selection of an option and the recital of a question.

Why? At this point, it will be safe to note that a large majority of customers have mobile phones with the keypad and speaker soldered as a single piece. This means that unless we put the phone on loudspeaker mode, we cannot press the keypad to select an option and listen at the same time.

Do not ask whether the caller is a customer or not

This is a redundant question, everybody who calls the line is a customer. Does it mean that I get treated differently when I am not a customer? Do I get to wait longer to get connected or I am not eligible to make the call? You get the picture.

Don't ask the answering machine to ask questions that the human will ask again

Why ask for my NRIC, passport or savings account number when the human friendly human is going to ask for that information again? As mentioned earlier, for every question that the answering machine asks, there is going to be at least 9 tasks that the consumer had to perform. DRY - Don't repeat yourself.

Solve the problem immediately

While my problem appeared to be solved, but it is not solved immediately. Yes, the customer service officer promised to credit the money into the bank account, but that will take 3 days. Luckily, there is still some reserves in the bank account to pay for the taxi rental fees. But what happens to people who need to pay the bill in two days time?

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About Clivant

Clivant a.k.a Chai Heng enjoys composing software and building systems to serve people. He owns and hopes that whatever he had written and built so far had benefited people. All views expressed belongs to him and are not representative of the company that he works/worked for.