The big miss in the age of customer connectivity

PublicPhoneFirst came the receptionist, otherwise known as the 'gatekeeper'. Good luck trying to get through. The good ones were impenetrable and they knew every trick in the book. We were trained to be nice, ask about the kids, jot down their birthdays and always focus on them before you asked to be connected with their boss. Then came voicemail. The science of handling the receptionist became obsolete and even pressing "0" to "speak with a live operator" was pointless because whomever got stuck answering the phone was not from the gatekeeper's breed. All they did was transfer you to voicemail. However, since most companies' phone number was readily available,  just dial in and maybe you could get lucky and get through to your prospect (hint: call them at 7:30AM).

The cyber-based-interaction world we live in today has changed everything again. On one hand you can find anyone with just a few clicks. Yet, many companies whose entire business model and future rests on e-communications (from websites to social media, blogs etc.) insist on biting the hand that feeds them, hence  - The Big Miss - they go out of their way (i.e., hiding their phone numbers) to avoid speaking to us.

Yesterday, I spent close to ten minutes perusing a website and desperately trying to find their customer support or sales number. I was in buying mode and the product was exactly what I was looking for. But, I had a question and did not feel like scrolling through pages of support forum topics. It wasn't a technical question, it was a sales question. Why are you hiding from me?

Many companies who have adopted voicemail as a way to save money by firing the receptionist have gone through a period of severe backlash from customers. Voicemail, which was supposed to increase productivity, became a convenient way of not bothering to answer calls at all which then lead to "your voicemail is full".  Productivity at the expense of new business or retaining customers? I don't think so.

I refuse to go through "listen carefully because our options have changed" routine. I anticipate at least seven options and multiple nested menus  that would challenge my attention span and patience. When I hear that options have changed, I immediately launch into repetitive pressing of "0" or hitting the "#" key which confuses most auto-attendant systems.

But here's my point about the big miss - If I own a business and knowing how competitive the business world has become, I would insist on talking to any customer or prospect. I would plaster my phone number everywhere on my website. I would make it a no-brainer for you to reach out and dial whenever you needed me.

We live in an age of connectivity where now more than ever getting direct input from customers is going to determine your ability to fix problems, enhance your value and to most importantly allow you to differentiate yourself.

Don't make me chase you.

Make me feel that you care about what I have to say.

If I choose to call instead of using a website support form, it is in your best interest (and future) to not just listen to me but also sense the emotions that drove the need to call.

If you hide your phone number, just like when you replaced the receptionist with a digital machine, you reject my voice. Humans hate rejection. We get hurt, angry and proceed with irrational behavior like deciding to never to do business with you again.

It takes years to build brand loyalty but only seconds to destroy it.

The path to growth for any business starts with making a deliberate decision to create, and support, a painless process that allows anyone who wishes to speak with you to do so.

After my ten frustrating minutes, I chose a competing product that didn't appear to be as good but was offered by a company that clearly wanted to hear from me - their phone number was in big bold and large font right there on every page of their website.

p.s. Oh yes, and I almost forgot about "chat live with a representative". Does that replace the need to disclose your phone number in case I really want to talk? What about the annoying delays "Dana S. is typing?"  - No, it is a convenient option that might work if you like to type but please dont' get trapped by the that "live chat" is the same as a real voice. If you want my business then let me be heard.