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"We're Experiencing Higher Than Normal Call Volumes"

By Greg Harris

There is a reason that God invented the telephone cord. The telephone cord was invented to prevent you from chucking the telephone across the room and actually hurting someone. That's what I want to do every time I call a customer service number and they say, "Sorry for the delay, we're experiencing unusually high call volumes..."

The truth is that companies that deal with customers are pretty good at predicting call volumes. How rare is it that you go to a supermarket and see really long lines to check out? It's very rare in my experience, and that's because they know people walking in will turn around and walk out if they see long lines. There are only a few hours in the day when all the checkout stands are actually open, and yet the store is designed to handle peak volumes. That's business.
Call Volumes

Call centers are no different. Call centers these days have lots of data at their fingertips and can forecast their call volume based on the time and day better than most businesses. It's because I work in a company with a call center that I know if you hear this message then you can immediately conclude a few things about the company:

  • This company is willing to lie to its customers. If it happens the same time of day every single week then the activity is no longer "unusual." If the company has gone through enough trouble to record this message as opposed to putting effort into solving the underlying problem, then the only conclusion is that this company is either lying or they aren't very good at managing a call center.
  • Customer ROI. The truth is that the reason you are on hold is that it's more profitable for the company to make you wait. Rather than staff for the anticipated call volumes, the company has concluded it can make more money by making you wait.
  • Own the problem. By using the "unusual call volume" message the company is trying to deflect the blame. Aren't they simply saying, "It's not our fault you are on hold, it's really your fault..." Should this suggest that when the product they are selling falls short, that will be my problem as well? Is this any different from your annoying friends who always think they are perfect?
I had a customer service problem recently, and the company I dealt with outsourced their customer service department to a contractor. The contractor made things worse, and I was left with no recourse other than going directly to the original company to resolve the problem. This company would take no phone calls but did provide me with an online form I could fill out. After posting my issue I got an automated email that said I would get a response within 15 business days. Three weeks to respond to an email? Really?!

I hope Jameco customers understand that it's very hard to always answer the phone on the first ring. But whether it's an email or a phone call, at some point if a company makes me wait too long, I'll walk away from the company and if they play games about deflecting why they are making me wait, that's when I run. A company should not be judged based on how well it does when things go right, but how good of a job they do when things go bad.

Do you have a story about when a company regularly lies to its customers, deflects ownership for their problem or consistently demonstrates that they haven't prioritized servicing customers as part of their business model? I would love to hear your story. Send your note to [email protected]. I'll take less than 15 business days to respond even if I'm experiencing unusually high volumes!