This Is What Fake Customer Service Sounds Like

Last Updated Sep 6, 2011 12:05 PM EDT

They say "fake it 'til you make it," but when it comes to customer service, too many companies just keep faking it. They usually want the best of both worlds -- cheap and acceptable service. Sometimes it's good intentions gone astray, or just plain corporate cluelessness.

Whatever the reason, fake customer service has distinctive sounds; here are a few of them:

"For faster service, enter your account number"
If it were true, it would be fine. Maybe even great. But we all know how this works: You key in your account number, PIN, last four of your social, and if/when a human eventually gets on the phone, the first words out of his mouth are "may I have your account number?" Dare you explain that you already entered everything, the response is always "I'm sorry, that information doesn't transfer over to me."

Perhaps 10 percent of the time the system actually works. But usually it just makes us jump through hoops, and in the end commits a double offense: It ticks us off and wastes our time.

"Mr. Hess, how may I help you today... Mr. Hess, let me look into that... Thank you for holding, Mr. Hess"
Yes, I know my name! I realize this person was trained to sound super-polite and personal, but repetitive name insertion reeks of a boilerplate service playbook with [customer name] peppered liberally throughout the script like Mad Libs. This is, of course, most common with offshore call centers... and don't get me started on that.

Obviously, addressing customers by title and last name is good practice, but less is more. You wouldn't/shouldn't say someone's name in every sentence in a face-to-face social setting (it's creepy), so don't do it on the phone. Use it in the initial greeting, maybe use it no more than once or twice where natural and clearly appropriate in the conversation, and close with it. More than that, and your spiel is as phony as a three-dollar bill. You're taking more bites, albeit small ones, out of my time and patience.

"So, you are saying that you are receiving print error code 304, Mr. Hess."
I know what I said (just as well as I know my name), so unless you actually didn't hear me, you don't have to repeat it; I just want my problem solved with the fewest possible words and steps.

Unless you're dealing with something truly complex and easily subject to misunderstanding, there are very few instances when it is really necessary to parrot what a customer says. But parroting is a common sound of fake service. Mind-numbingly repeating virtually everything the customer says is a misguided effort to show attentiveness and understanding. Again, most common with offshore support, but it's not the fault of the agents, it's the trainers and script writers who program them.

"Congratulations, you've been selected to participate in a survey"
Being "selected" for a survey that virtually no one wants to take (really, how many of us jump at that chance) is cause for congratulations? Now you're insulting my intelligence, patronizing me while I am unhappily waiting for you to connect my call, and wasting more of my time.

I get that companies want feedback, and many want to measure everything (even if they don't actually use the data). But doing so in a way that potentially irritates customers -- a survey message that can't be bypassed, under the guise of "providing the best possible service" -- is like force-feeding someone spoiled milk to find out how you can provide the best possible dairy products.

Some will say I am being curmudgeonly (though I believe I am too young to be a curmudgeon), or that I am slamming companies for at least making an effort to provide good service. Balderdash. I am slamming companies for not succeeding at providing good service when it is completely within their ability to do so. Call it tough love. In the words of the great philosopher Yoda, "Do or do not, there is no try."

The companies that practice this fake service are almost always those with the greatest resources, and in the best position to use those resources to implement outstanding customer practices. But instead they create sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Do you know of other telltale sounds of fake service? Let's hear them.

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Flickr photo courtesy of velvettangerine, cc 2.0
  • Michael Hess On Facebook»

    Michael is an entrepreneur who has launched businesses including Skooba Design and Hotdog Yoga Gear travel bag brands, as well as Journeyware Travel Outfitters. Michael sold his company in 2014 and is now focused on writing, speaking and consulting. Learn more about his ventures at www.businesswithclass.com.

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