Get a Human, Get an A. Get a Machine, Get an F
Back in August, the original Checkout Consumer Champion and GetHuman.com founder Paul English announced he had drafted standards for customer service and would be gathering input from consumers and companies such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems and IBM. It was GetHuman's first step toward evaluating companies on how well they treat us on the phone.
The standards are based on six core principles that make sense to anyone ever trapped in a phone tree.
Here's a quick rundown:
* Humans First. As the name "GetHuman" suggests, talking to a person and not a machine is a top priority. So, where a person is available, a person should quickly answer the call and figure out what the caller needs.
* Make it easy. The system should be so easy, convenient and efficient to use that people will choose to use it. As a rule of thumb, such systems should let the user accomplish tasks faster than if he dealt with a person.
* Efficient prompts. Prompts should serve a purpose. "Legalese" is a no-no, unless required by law. ClichÃ© phrases such as "Your call is important to us," "Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed," "You can access our Web site to answer most questions" should be avoided.
* Systems are not human beings. Automated systems that try to sound human can be patronizing. When a consumer calls with a serious issue, he does not want to be greeted by overly friendly and cheery personas.
* Listen to your customers. 'Nuf said.
* Logical flow. Self-service application questions should flow logically. For example, it is unacceptable to obtain a caller's account number, and then ask if he/she would like to open an account.
GetHuman graded 500 companies using these principles. In addition to posting the companies' grades, the site included steps on how to reach a person on the other end. The results are finally in and they're not pretty.
Only nine companies earned an A: Hertz, Commerce Bank, Dillard's, Lands End, L.L. Bean, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Hyatt, and Walt Disney World.
Of 42 credit cards evaluated, including cards issued by Best Buy, Citi Simplicity and Discover, only two received a B, three received a D, and the rest received an F.
All 18 government agencies reviewed received an F, except for--believe it or not--the White House and the FBI.
Among wireless carriers, Boost Mobile, Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile failed as well. T-Mobile came out on top with a D.
If you thought that helping GetHuman draft the standards won companies a pass, all you have to do is look at Microsoft's grade to know English and his band of volunteers didn't engage in grade inflation. The software giant received an F.
Last but not least: Newspaper subscription customer service was evaluated along with makers of consumer products. The Post scored a big fat F--worse than PETCO which received a D and Tyson Foods, which got a C.
As English put it on the GetHuman site, "There is much work to be done."
Want to play teacher? Were there companies you wanted to see graded that didn't make the list? Grade them here.
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