The phone is not dead.
Let me tell you why. Actually, allow me to gush. I recently had a customer service experience over the phone that proved why the phone is still king.
Melanie, a Verizon Wireless technical support rep, took a minor frustration and turned it into a great experience.
She did it primarily over the phone. Yes, she used text and email too. It was a very omnichannel experience. But, the phone was the primary channel.
No other channel would have worked so well.
Read on to learn what Melanie did, why other channels would have failed, and how Verizon Wireless empowered Melanie to make it happen.
My day had just gotten crushed.
A check engine light forced an unexpected trip to the mechanic. Then, my smartphone died while I was trying to set up an appointment to get the car fixed.
The phone lost it's network connection, giving me a "No Sim Card" warning. Like an estimated 57 percent of customers, I first went online to find some self-help. There were a few knowledge base articles, but none of them fixed my phone.
Time to call.
I dialed Verizon Wireless's customer service line. Pressed the number for technical support. Entered my phone number. Entered the last four digits of my social security number for verification purposes.
And then... I was instantly connected to Melanie.
Customers like me who are angry about other things are typically hard to serve. But, Melanie was a saint.
She was warm and friendly. Reassuring without being patronizing. She also clearly knew her stuff as she walked me through several diagnostic steps.
We had to wait a brief moment during the diagnostic process while my phone reset itself. Melanie took the opportunity to helpfully review my plan. She looked at my actual usage and pointed out a new plan that would save me $30 per month.
Wait, helpful tech support and I just saved $360 per year?!
It got even better. Melanie asked if it would be okay if she called back in 30 to 45 minutes to just check in and make sure everything was OK.
Dogmatic first contact resolution adherents are cringing right now, because Melanie's follow-up call would technically be a second contact. But, to a customer, it was awesome.
She called a short while later just as promised. She happened to catch me while I was in the waiting area at the mechanic. "How is your car?" she asked, leading with empathy.
Melanie then asked a couple of questions to make sure that my phone was still working fine.
Why other channels would fail
No other channel could do what Melanie did.
I tried chat before calling support because I thought chat might be faster. I was still waiting for a chat agent when Melanie answered the phone.
Even if I had gotten through, a chat agent wouldn't be able to empathize in quite the same was as a live phone agent. And, there would be the inevitable delay as we went back and forth to run diagnostics. Once you're connected, phone is faster.
Other written channels like email, text, and social would also have failed. The starting point for those written channels would likely be to send me to the knowledge base article that I had already visited.
There would then have been a significant delay going back and forth. I doubt we would have fixed my phone so fast. I also doubt there would have been time to save me $360.
In-person would have accomplished the same result. The only problem with that is I would have to drive down to the Verizon store. That would take extra time and my car was headed to the mechanic anyway.
No, the phone was the fastest and most satisfying channel by far.
How Verizon supported Melanie
There are many people who don't like the phone as a service channel.
Perhaps one reason is that many contact centers don't support this channel the right way. A 2015 ICMI study found that 86 percent of contact centers don't empower their agents.
So, saying the phone doesn't work is like watching a lightbulb burn out and declaring that all lightbulbs are dead.
Verizon does a lot of things right over the phone. They seem to hire a lot of people like Melanie. I've consistently spoken to helpful, friendly people who quickly solved my problem whenever I've had to call.
Verizon must also do some things to make sure those customer service stars don't get demotivated. After all, demotivation is a much bigger problem in contact centers than motivation.
So, here are a few things I noticed.
First, Melanie had the tools she needed to help me. She didn't have to ask me for my account information because it was already on her screen when she answered my call.
She had diagnostic tools to help her remotely figure out what was going on with my phone.
She had a database of different phone designs so she could access the specs on my particular model and tell me exactly where to find things.
And, she had the ability to schedule a follow-up call to make sure everything was working properly.
Second, Melanie was given time. She clearly wasn't trying to end the call as quickly as possible to ensure she met a draconian average handle time standard. She focused on moving things forward swiftly because we were both anxious to solve the problem, but she didn't cut any corners at my expense.
Finally, Melanie clearly had a lot of training. She was well-versed on her product, knew the right questions to ask, and knew how to ask them.
Don't get me wrong. I like other channels. And, there are a lot of companies that do phone so poorly that you feel compelled to use a different channel.
But, so long as companies like Verizon Wireless can do phone right, that will be my preferred channel for situations like this.
How about you?
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