DIANE MAKAR MURPHY The vast corporate conspiracy to drive you nuts
From a top-secret memo dated January 1981, found in a dusty, imaginary office, on the bottom floor of the Big Corporate America building in the wing devoted to customer service planning and execution ...
"First, it must be agreed that the current system of accessible customer service is far too costly and inefficient, with little return to investment payoff.
"We have already made some attempts to improve our position. First, all bills are sent so that they arrive late Friday or on the weekend. Customer complaints have dramatically decreased since incorporating this discreetly enforced weekend 'cooling off' period.
"Secondly, we have provided individuals with titles so that customers have the illusion of complaining to higher authorities, while no additional money has been spent on salaries or training.
"Thirdly, we have installed hold buttons on all customer service representative telephones.
"We believe however, that a much more sophisticated communication system should be installed that will automatically route customer calls avoiding, whenever possible, disagreeable 'person to person' contact. We propose this be phased in slowly, with full capability in the year 2002.
By the numbers: "Using the telephone touch tone dial, customers can be given up to 9 choices at a time, not including 0. After the initial choice, customers can be given secondary, tertiary, quatiary, quintiary, and sixiary selections, each of these up to and including 9 possible button choices, not including 0. Beyond a power of 9 to the 6th, it is doubtful customers will continue to participate, so we recommend using 9 levels to weed out insincere inquiries and complaints.
"Next, requiring certain, but not all, numbers be followed by the # sign will further discourage disearnest customers.
"Thirdly, rather than giving an option of '0' to reach a customer service representative at level one, we recommend this option be limited to the third level of button pushing. And for those that achieve that level, sincerity could further be tested with the following announcement: 'Thank you for calling. The current wait time is 32 minutes. Please hold and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received,' alternating with 'Your call is very important to us.'
"An additional recommendation includes randomly disconnecting these on-hold customers - repeatedly if possible.
Soothing the savage customer: "For those customers who proceed undeterred, it is proposed that music be piped into the phone line. It has been found that classical music is annoying to some people, that rock 'n' roll encourages energetic complaints, but that Yanni is an effective management tool. That being the case, several customers will forget why they called by the time they are answered, further limiting valuable company phone time. Should some customers continue to hold, it is the perfect time to air an interesting commercial or two.
"A final, essential recommendation, is that a customer service cartel of several corporate giants be formed. This cartel would create a single, centralized customer service area where millions of calls of complaint or inquiry from ALL companies would go.
"It is proposed that this customer service area be manned by one minimum wage employee. The cost efficiency is staggering!
"This representative could be skilled in reading a customer service flow chart which would include such tried and tested prompts as, 'I'm sorry to have kept you waiting,' 'I'm sorry to have disconnected you,' 'Unfortunately, our computers are down right now,' 'I'm sorry, you're mistaken,' 'I'm sorry, you just don't understand,' 'I'm sorry, no supervisor is here right now,' 'There is no call for that kind of language' and 'Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. ... I am the great and wonderful Oz.' "