A Service Dream: Real Technology Supporting Real People

29 Dec A Service Dream: Real Technology Supporting Real People


It took us long enough…..

Back in the 1980’s at Bell Labs in Holmdel, NJ, software engineers were working on what we called the “PC-PBX Connection,” to create a service environment that held the potential of a supreme competitive advantage for any company that adopted the technology. Simply put, the software-hardware combo enabled real people to respond to customer calls with real information at their fingertips.  The result?  Customers were served quickly, were made to feel special as if they were known personally by the company’s reps, and the company had instant credibility in the eyes of their customers. Again, there was so much potential here to positively affect customer satisfaction and loyalty and lower the cost of service by speeding up the process.  You’d think it would catch on like wildfire!  Guess again. Although the technology integration continued to evolve with ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) and VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) as examples, the effective application of these technologies to enhance customer service lagged behind.

Every new feature has its failing it seems.  And competing technologies often work against each other.  At the same time as voice-data integration is progressing, advances are being made in PBX (phone system) “auto-attendants.” You have experienced this technology as: “press 1 for service, press 2 for directions, press 3 to send a four-letter word to the inventor of this program.”  For years afterward, companies implemented more and more complex auto attendants with sometimes 4, 5 or 6 levels of complexity.  If you dare to “Press 1,” you could get another layer of announcements: “Press 1 for blue, Press 2 for red, Press 3 to blow up this phone system.”

Savvy callers quickly learned that pressing 0 at any time in the announcement could circumvent the navigation tree and get you a real person, although that didn’t always work.  When voice recognition became all the rage, one could actually say REPRESENTATIVE in a loud and abrasive voice as you became so entangled in the maze that your blood pressure rose.  This quickly summoned the auto response: “One minute please and you will be connected with a representative.”  If you were lucky, a real person answered, seemly unaware of your experience in the maze.  If you were unlucky, another announcement would report your place in the queue and you waited while listening to elevator music or worse.

In contrast, the voice-data integration phone systems, or “PC-PBX Connection” as it was called way back then, allowed a real person to pick up the phone and appear clairvoyant, much as we all do today with simple “Caller ID.”  The caller’s name, phone number, account number, order history and more would appear on the attendant’s PC monitor and now the attendant could say, “Hello Mr. or Mrs. so and so, how can I help you today?”  In turn, the caller was delighted and was feeling welcomed and connected.  What followed was a true bonding experience.  The caller didn’t need to repeat the account or order numbers.  With a brief security screening, the service rep was off and running to resolve the caller’s issue or question efficiently.

And now, here we are about 30 years into the future from the 1980’s and I notice time and again that when calling a company for a service issue or product question, the outdated auto attendants are still around and as complex as ever and they are being utilized by cable tv and phone companies, believe it or not.  I’m still pressing 1, 2, ad nauseam and when the system asks the caller to enter their account number or phone number, you might anticipate a shorter service call when finally connected to a real person.  But no dice.  When the attendant (a real person) finally answers, guess what?  Yep……they ask for your phone number and account number.  “But,” you reply, “I JUST TYPED IT INTO THE SYSTEM!!!”  No use.  The attendant has no idea what you are talking about.  Go figure.

Now you may think I’m prompted to write this blog entry just to complain, but I’m going to surprise you. I’m prompted to write this because of a POSITIVE experience I had this week.  Have you called LL BEAN during the holiday season?  I did and I was delighted.

Maybe more so because of my role in marketing PC-PBX integration products for AT&T then, now Lucent Technologies and my feeling of reassurance that companies are finally harnessing the power of this “old” technology.  But I think I’m gratified mostly because as a consumer, I need it.  I have been craving better service, shorter hold times and more efficient resolution of problems.

To make a long story short:

I had to return a pair of slippers that I bought for my husband, Gene (too tight, too narrow) and I wanted to exchange them for a different size.  When I called the LL BEAN 800 number, a real person answered immediately, who said: “Hello Mrs. Weinmann, how can I help you today?”

I gasped….and when I recovered from the shock I weakly told her that I wanted to return a pair of slippers.

She replied: “Oh yes, the brown medium fleece-lined men’s slippers?”

Oh my LORD!  She’s clairvoyant!

I won’t bore you with the rest of the details of the call, but suffice it to say, I have become a loyal LL Bean Customer from now on!  Why?  Great products AND great service, a simple but powerful combo, just like the PC-PBX Connection!
Master the technology…..conquer your market.

Happy New Year everyone!



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