Customer service and human dignity

It’s been a decade since I interviewed Paul English on the subject of customer service and human dignity (audio). He was CTO and co-founder at kayak but in this interview we talked more about GetHuman. It had begun as a list of cheats to help you hack through the automated defenses of corporate customer service and get to a real person. Here’s how I remember The IVR Cheat Sheet back then:

finance phone steps to find a human
America First Credit Union 800-999-3961 0 or say “member services”
American Express 800-528-4800 0 repeatedly
Bank of America 800-900-9000 00 or dial 813-882-1103 for Executive Office.
Bank of America 800-622-8731 *
Bank of America 800-432-1000 Say “operator” or “associate” at any point in the menu.
Charles Schwab 800-435-9050 3, 0
Chase 800-CHASE24 5 pause 1 4
Chrysler Financial 800-700-0738 Select language, then press 00
Citi AAdvantage 888-766-2484 Ignore prompts and wait for a human.
Citi Card 800-967-8500 0,0,0,0,0

In our interview Paul said:

Dignity is defined in part as giving people the right to make decisions. In particular if it’s a company I’m paying $100/month for cable or cell phone or whatever, and they don’t give me the ability to decide when I need to talk to a human, I find it really insulting.

When the CEO makes the terrible decision to treat customer service as a cost center, the bonus for the VP who runs it is based on one thing: shaving pennies off the cost of the call.

I responded:

Which is a tragedy because customer service is a huge opportunity for business differentiation. If we set up a false dichotomy, where it’s either automated or human, we’re missing out on the real opportunity which is to connect the right people to the right context at the right time. That’s what needs to happen, but a tricky thing to orchestrate and there doesn’t seem to be any vision for how to do that.

I’ve used GetHuman for 10 years. Yesterday I went there to gird for battle with Comcast and was delighted to see that the service has morphed into this:

Boston-based startup GetHuman on Wednesday unveiled a new service that lets you to pay $5 to $25 to hire a “problem solver” who will call a company’s customer service line on your behalf to resolve issues. Prices vary depending on the company, but GetHuman offers to fight for your airline refund, deal with Facebook account issues, or perhaps even prevent a grueling call with Comcast to disconnect your service.

— CNET, May 4, 2016

I’m really curious about their hands-off problem-solving service and will try it in other circumstances, but my negotiation with Comcast was going to require my direct involvement. So this free call-back service made my day:

How our Comcast call-back works

First we call Comcast, wade through their phone maze, wait on hold for you, and then call you back when an agent can talk. We try 4 times, in case we don’t get through the first time. Of course, once you do talk to a Comcast rep, you still have to do the talking, negotiating, etc.

I went back to work. The call came. Normally I’d be feeling angry and humiliated in this situation. Instead I felt happy and empowered. Companies have used their robots to thwart me all these years. Now I’ve got a robot on my side of the table. It’s on!

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