The Nightmare of Interactive Voice Response and Overseas Call Centers

Where has customer service gone?

When was the last time you called, let's say, your credit card company to discuss an issue you are having with your credit card?  I imagine you wanted to speak to a live person, right?  Well, when you called that 1-800 number you were greeted by the nightmare of Interactive Voice Response, otherwise known as IVR.

You were hoping to speak to a live customer service representative to discuss your issue.  The IVR system is hindering you rather than helping you.  Instead of the friendly "Thank you for calling XYZ bank this is Edward how may I assist you?" from a long time ago you are being asked to speak your response guided by a computer robot.  Now I understand that you have an issue that you need to discuss with a live human being rather than some computer robot and you don't respond to the IVR prompt.  Instead, the IVR comes back at you to enter your response again - and again - until you get annoyed.

On the let's say fourth attempt of the IVR soliciting you for your information you are finally transferred to a customer service representative to discuss your issue.  The representative that answers your call turns out to speak some kind of broken English that you can't understand.  You try to politely and professionally explain your issue to the representative but the representative gets belligerent at you, at times the representative is surly (and abruptly) addressing you "sir" or "ma'am" in the process until you get completely annoyed.  As you are not getting any satisfaction whatsoever you ask for a supervisor to help.  The representative denies your request and - to make you more angry than what you were before you called in the first place - the representative hangs up on you.

So, welcome to the world of Interactive Voice Response and overseas call centers!

Why use Interactive Voice Response and Overseas Call Centers?

The objective is plainly simple:  It saves a company time and money!  But I can't understand why companies use these to try to improve their bottom line if customer satisfaction goes down as a result.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is actually a computer system used to speed up simple customer inquiries such as obtaining credit card balances, checking recent transactions, ordering items and much more.  When someone calls the company's toll-free number the caller is connected to its IVR system.  To the customer, IVR can be a helpful tool or a hindrance before reaching a live human being.  IVR can also be used as a customer service tool to keep customers from reaching a live human being if it's programmed correctly; I have myself experienced one company (who I won't mention here) where IVR is used to basically keep you from talking to a live human being.

On the other hand, more and more companies are outsourcing their customer service operations to call centers based overseas, especially Bangalore, India as an example.  Why outsource customer service?  Again, it's in the name of saving money and makes a company's bottom line better as (depending on the country where the call center is located) salaries don't have to be as high like we are used to in the good old USA and benefits don't have to be paid as well.  As for benefits, it's up for a company to decide.

While outsourcing customer service overseas may save a company some money one way or another, more and more customers express dissatisfaction dealing with an American company when in fact the customer is speaking with a customer service representative of an American company in a foreign country.  Practically the only way you find out when you call customer service for something you need is the tone of voice of the customer service representative, especially when you hear an accent.

Edward Ringwald's View on Interactive Voice Response and Overseas Call Centers

My view is plain and simple:  Jobs are jobs for Americans and I believe American companies should not outsource customer service.  Sure outsourcing may save money somewhere but nothing is saved in time or money when customer satisfaction begins to downgrade.

If companies want to use IVR as a customer service tool it should be done with an option to reach a customer service representative presented in the simplest manner.  No one should have to go through the nightmare of navigating an IVR system especially when a customer's issue is so complex that it requires the personal attention of a customer service representative.

On a side note, I believe that all companies (especially customer service oriented companies) in order to achieve the highest customer satisfaction need to invest in customer service training for its employees.  A company's customer service representatives are the people that make the impression of a company when a customer calls on a company for service and/or information.

Links to More Information

I could go on forever about IVR and overseas customer service but it would start sounding too boring.  Instead, here are some links to a few sites on the subject of customer service:

The Get Human database of secret phone numbers and codes to use when reaching a live customer service representative by Paul English.  This is a well done site on customer service and worth a visit!

Been treated poorly by a customer service representative and getting no satisfaction?  Head on over to The Rip Off Report by Ed Magedson.  There you can browse reports submitted by people like yourself and you can also submit your customer service experience as well.  It's also worth a visit!

I have another related topic regarding AOL and how hard it is to cancel an AOL membership along with one member's saga which you can read by clicking here.