Playing Hard To Get On The Internet
Despite generations of business experience having led managers and specialists to advocate behaviour and style which takes the customer's view into account, the tendency for on-line systems, marketing devices, application forms and web-sites to keep the would-be customer at bay seem to be growing.
Most of us can tell stories of telephone systems which direct you to press buttons appropriate to your query but where none of the internal jargon for classifications appear to apply to your problem. Listening to voices to which you cannot talk back, is still unnatural and certainly frustrating to many people.
One does of course have some respect for a technological effort aimed at sorting calls and speeding up responses, but call centres seem to employ people with little knowledge of the business they represent, using procedures that probably suit the business but are confusing and even nonsensical to the customer. They can parrot the standard questions they have learned to ask, often in an accent which is indecipherable, but should you try to engage them in a discussion about the logic and customer awareness of their telephone call, they are floored and inarticulate.
How often, just when you have had a surfeit of canned music and recorded messages urging you to hold on because your call “is important to us” or that a response is imminent and then at last you feel you have finally pressed the button to reach the expert 'consultant' who will eliminate your simple and legitimate problem, you are told in dulcet tones, "this service has been discontinued due to low level of usage". Clearly the fault is yours for having a problem or need, which the majority of users are too smart to experience.
For an unbelievable experience just try telephoning CIPRO (Google will explain what this acronym stands for). You get an early hint that ‘our lines are very busy at present’. (This occurs right through the night too). After some Brahms and Chopin a female voice tells you that ‘if you wish to leave a message press two’. Three rings after pressing two a male voice tells you that this service is no longer operating. I suppose some of the messages left when the system used to work were a bit impolite.
Surely it’s not beyond the capabilities of the system's designers to keep it updated or at least remove promises of options which are no longer available.
Anecdotal evidence of a lack of concern for or understanding of the customers view abounds. The stories are usually told with humour because, let's face it, the culprits really do tend to make jack-asses of themselves.
pressing at least ten buttons with a growing feeling that I was becoming a successful part of the technological revolution, I pressed the button "to confirm an onward flight", only to be told "Singapore airlines has pleasure in advising that is no longer necessary to confirm onward flights".
Some amusing yet instructive examples of communications, written by members of a longsuffering public in an effort to breach the thicket of bumbling hazards and pitfalls, have been researched and edited by Dr. Gavin Barnett and will appear under the title "Human Writes".
In this issue we publish an example from the advanced world of the e-market.
We have to admit that many people are baffled and even threatened by, the digital age and may be the unwitting cause of their own problems. But the dot.com wizards must themselves share the blame.
Take for example the intriguing advertisement placed in old fashioned print media by one of the country's most conservative giant companies. It tempts the confused investor whom, it correctly surmises, finds it difficult to navigate through the complexities of unit trusts, by offering the big easy which enables one "to invest in a portfolio of the best unit trusts available without having to make any difficult decisions". It goes on to claim that "the big easy is the only unit investment you'll ever need!"
By now your tongue is hanging out with eagerness. At last a really simple user-friendly approach. Its when you call up the www.whatsisname.co.za as advertised, that you encounter a tangled web of megabytes calculated to make you want to rejoin the queue at whatsisname's office and do it the hard way.
The following e-mail messages I transmitted to whatsisname, describe a recent experience. Subject: Offshore units I clipped your ad about the big easy. Your web-site given in the ad reveals no reference to big easy whatsoever. Of the ten topic buttons given, I clicked the six which might be even vaguely relevant to my mission. Of these, five stated the "page was no longer available". Not a good start, would you agree?
Resourcefully I turned to the search engine thoughtfully provided. Alas your own search engine unblushingly disclaimed any knowledge whatsoever of the, by now, familiar phrase "big easy". I must say the word easy began to lose some of its normal meaning in this process.
I paused in frustration wondering whether I should be chasing you and whether it was no longer fashionable for business to seek customers. Perhaps some new legislation had reversed the roles.
As a last resort, I resorted to the FAQ's section (at least I'm with it enough to know what that means) and, though none of the frequently asked questions even remotely resembled my queries, thankfully your e-mail address was shown gratuitously.
This meant I did not have to resort to using the telephone. That would have been like giving up and taking the easy way out. (Sorry no offence meant!).
From the advert, big easy had seemed interesting but it seems to be playing hard to get on the Internet. (Sorry that just tripped off the tip of my keyboard).
Is there a more inviting way to become a new client of the big easy? I have some R25 000 or more to invest in a lump sum and I fancied offshore units to protect me against the falling Rand. (Sorry next day it was up again).
I am not too fond of listening to telephonic musical recitals or being hounded by persistent salesmen - just want to sit at my computer and find out how the big easy works. Surely that's the whole idea? Help!!
GGB, a potential customer".
The e-mail reply was crisp and simple. No embellishments like: "Were so sorry you had problems accessing our new fabulous big easy scheme via the web-site". No, I was given the "right procedure", (which differed from the advertisement).
What happened then caused me to resort to e-mail again. "Subject: big easy"
Thank you for the right procedure. However on hopefully following your latest instructions, I encountered an invitation to register and log in for the big easy.
I did think it was strange, that a prospective customer has to register and then log in. Perhaps it is some kind of test. If I fail the test I'm obviously not the kind of client you want.
Anyway it was great just to see the word big easy on the screen at last so I've decided not to be churlish about the process.
I tried to register, wondering whether it was safe giving away my entire pedigree. But then I received a message saying I could not access the information as I was not a member of the big easy club.
My money is still here becoming worth less every day as the Rand nosedives again so, if your Internet connection is not up to it perhaps you would fax me (old fashioned technology known as facsimile) a brochure and application form.
Yours a little wearily, but still a potential customer, GGB
The reply was delightfully brief. By advocating yet another "right procedure", it shamelessly debunked the whole process faithfully and fruitlessly followed before and set me upon a new and, this time, shorter journey on the multimedia highway, though not without its hiccups.
For example the very first button I was to click on, did not exist. Possibly due to “re-engineering" activities? Ignoring the instructions proved successful.
The excellent investment I ended up making was, I feel, as much a result of my own persistence as of the big easy marketing team's soft-sell, and I should be the one who gets the commission!