The Obvious Reason You’re Stuck Dealing with Automated Customer Service Lines

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Speaking with an actual live customer service agent costs a company somewhere between $3 and $9. But an automated phone system? That costs the company 5¢ to 7¢.

Estimates cited in a WSJ story:

A typical customer service call that reaches an agent costs companies $3 to $9 depending on the industry, says Melanie Polkosky, a psychologist for International Business Machines Corp. who helps design automated customer-service systems. A call that’s handled through the automated system only costs five to seven cents.

You gotta love that these customer service operations employ psychologists. Who better to screw with people—um, I mean address human needs—right?

The story covers the corporate quest to provide better, or at least less annoying customer service to consumers without actually putting much of any effort or money into the systems. The latest ground-breaking, no-cost innovation is—no kidding—changing the voices on these automated lines. Aflac, for instance, the insurance company that employs one of the world’s all-time most annoying voices in its commercials (Gilbert Gottfried as that agitated “Aflac!” duck), went with a middle-aged female voice actress when it changed its auto-voice system over the summer. This switch is supposed to make up for the fact that the company is expecting to receive an extra 500,000 calls this year while employing 3% fewer customer service reps.

And who knows, maybe this actually works on customers. Aflac says it does anyway, per the WSJ:

The company surveyed about 200 callers in April, before the change, and in August. It found that overall customer satisfaction had risen about 7% with the new voice.

I guess if I have to deal with a robot, I’d prefer it to be female too. I’m not sure about the middle-aged thing, though.

Aflac and customer service systemization specialists surely point to the improvement in customer satisfaction ratings as a huge success. But me, I look at this as another example of how low customer expectations are nowadays. We’ve become accustomed to absolutely awful customer service to the point that we view any effort—even one as silly and meaningless as a homier voice recording—as an improvement.

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