Press reports of a study from a company called Ovum about “call centre hell” (haven’t we all been there?) prompted some brief online research and a quick piece of memory recall.

First, the Ovum report itself.

Their author, one Daniel Hong says

There is significant customer frustration when it comes to automated self-service and voice recognition systems…in a recent Ovum survey, one third of respondents [only?!] said they found it the most challenging aspect of customer service… They are not aware of what their customers are actually experiencing because they are measuring their systems by how much money they are saving them

What Hong doesn’t deal with (at least in the press reports) is the proportion of calls that represent failure demand i.e. where the company are only getting the calls because of something they’ve done wrong.  If they didn’t get things wrong they wouldn’t receive some of the calls.

However, back to Ovum’s main thrust – automated call systems.

If you want to try and get past the frustration of the interminable If you want x press y, if you a press b you could do worse than have a look at the GetHuman web site.

GetHuman shows you how to bypass company automated call systems, if you can.  And in the best tradition of the web their information is supplemented by customer reviews.

Most of the organisations are North American but plug your way through the long alphabetical lists and you’ll find some from the UK, although only one public sector body I could find (Royal Mail – not good).  You can suggest more if you want.

The UK public sector (notwithstanding the Royal Mail example) isn’t always that bad, partly because it tends to play catch up to the private sector with the technology.  But they need to watch out – and not go down the route of using the technology to drive savings rather than improve service.

And a small confession of getting it wrong myself.

I worked with a council once that started to go down the call centre route.  The manager in charge insisted that as well as a general enquiry number a series of additional numbers (all 0845 so no cost to callers) be publicised for particular services.

I thought there should be only one number so people stood a greater chance of remembering it.

But in fact the decision my colleague made was the right one.  It gave people the option to remember either the general enquiry number or the one they really needed (housing repairs for example).  The trick was that all enquiries went to the first available operator (note – no automated options there), who could deal with any enquiry and in most cases knew the general area of concern that the caller had before they picked the phone up.

So my colleague was right and I was wrong.  You’ll not often see me write that.