Customer Care Professionals Group

This special interest group is where customer care professionals share tactics on how utilities are improving interactions with their customers. This group is part of the Utility Business Network.

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Trim Your Utility’s Phone Tree

Want to know the best way to annoy your utility’s customers?

Make them navigate through a complicated “phone tree” complete with confusing options, not to mention myriad options within options. And be sure to make it difficult, if not close to impossible, to actually speak with an operator.

Yes, it’s understood that phone trees are a cost-saving measure and, if implemented properly, can get customers to the place they need to be.

In reality, they rarely are implemented properly and is the savings from having fewer operators really worth the image hit you’re going to take from frustrated, disgruntled customers?

That said, there are ways to improve your phone trees, but note that they’ll never be perfect because, for a lack of a better description, some of your customers are stupid or technologically inept.

Personal example: On my own company’s phone tree, the news department is the first option, so many customers push it right away despite admonishments to listen to all options. That means I’m constantly getting calls for circulation issues, people who want to place classified advertising or those with billing questions. And even though my personal voicemail tells people with circulation issues (the bulk of the errant calls) to call a different number, I still get angry messages from people who didn’t get their paper.

In other words, some people don’t listen.

But for those that do, help them out by pruning your phone tree.

Reduce the number of initial options into no more than a half-dozen broad categories. Be clear with your word choices. By changing “editorial department” to the clearer “news department” at my job, it did cut down on errant calls.

Categories could include “questions about your bill,” “power outages,” “starting or stopping service” and a couple others. Leave no room for callers to interpret what you mean.

Once the first button is pushed, you’ll have to present callers with another set of options. Again, keep those options to no more than a half-dozen. In almost every case, the phone tree should end there, with the customer either talking to a live person or receiving automated information.

At every level of the phone tree, include an option of speaking to an operator.

In addition, avoid sending customers to voicemail. There should almost always be an option to speak to a live person.

Do these measures solve all your phone tree woes? Certainly not, but they at least simplify things for customers and reduce the chance they’ll get annoyed. The goodwill generated should easily be worth the effort.

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