Tag Archives: consumer choice

Choosing how you wait for a call centre

1896 Swedish telephone. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

1896 Swedish telephone. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Call centres, and other businesses, often seek to minimize their costs by using as few staff as they can without losing (too many) customers. There is a trade-off between the theoretical cost of a lost customer, and the actual cost of employing sufficient humans to answer the calls that are received. Because the employed human results in a known cost, whereas the lost customer presents only a theoretical cost, it is more than likely that in the first instance, a machine will answer your call to a call centre. If you are as unfortunate as I am, then after listening to never ending lists of instructions about pushing the buttons on your telephone, you will still not speak to a human. Instead, you will wait; and while you wait, you will probably end up listening to advertising messages, muzak, or talkback radio, according to the whim of the call centre.

Now consider the following alternative scenario. You would still have to wait, but you would have a choice of options which no call centre currently appears to provide.

The message would say something along the lines of “While you wait, you have a choice of things to listen to. For silence with a connexion confirmation tone every 30 seconds, press 1; for information on our products, press 2; for classical music, press 3; for heavy metal, press 4 … ”, and so forth. There might even be an option such as “By pressing the star key at any time, you can change your choice and obtain information about both your position in the call queue and the expected waiting time.” That way, you, rather than the call centre, would be able to determine your activity while you wait. The advantages for you are obvious. The advantage for the call centre are less obvious, but nonetheless real.

Firstly, interested customers would listen to product advertising, and other customers would not be annoyed. Secondly, there is extensive evidence from the psychological literature which indicates that when people have a sense of control over their environment, many of them will accept conditions (advertising messages, for example) which they would otherwise reject. In other words, if you ask me whether I would like to listen to some product information, I might well say, “Yes”; but were you to force me to listen to the advertising without first asking me, I would be more likely to reject your products, and become annoyed with your company.

Contributors: Mark R. Diamond, Angela O’Brien-Malone, Daniel D. Reidpath