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ARTICLE - Call Centre Voicemail Telephone Hell
Telephone Red Angry Hand

The Sheer Hell of Telephone Call Centre Voicemail

Telephone Call Centres and their horrendous voicemail systems can often provide the ultimate in bad customer service experience.  The question is why on earth are they used?


Just about everyone has experienced the sheer hell of telephoning a call centre.  The endless voicemail mantra of ‘your custom is important to us’, the torturous piped music, the waste of time, and to rub salt in the wound invariably having to pay money for this nightmare.  For many companies and organisations their voicemail is nothing short of a public relations disaster.  This article examines the current call centre vogue and questions why it is used in the first place.

A few years ago the United Kingdom radio station Talksport ran an advert which started with a spoof voice mail system.  It went along the lines of: press 1 to get more options that are absolutely no use: press 2 for an endless mantra of ‘your custom is important to us’, press 3 for a distorted loop of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; press 4 to speak to a person who cannot understand English, press 5 to be disconnected for no apparent reason.  Suddenly the radio advert gives the telephone disconnect noise and onto the crux of their rather clever advert.

The options covered by this spoof advert neatly summarises the pitfalls of voicemail, the following few paragraphs will consider them again in further detail. 

From a customer’s point of view, all that is required is to speak quickly to a person with the necessary skills to understand and resolve a query, rapidly and without wasting time or money.  For some bizarre reason Voicemail systems invariably supply the option required as the last one heard, if available at all.  A customer can get rapidly lost in sub options, or even worse with British Telecon (as covered in a previous article) lead you round an endless circular route of automated voicemail messages. 

If you are lucky you will eventually arrive at the appropriate option, normally about 3-4 menus worth down the call.  The frustration of voicemail is a slow burn, you hope for an immediate answer despite all prior experience of call centre nightmares.  You then receive the dreaded ‘All our advisors are busy serving other customers, your custom is important to us please hold’ mantra.  It does not seem to matter what time you ring, it could be the middle of the night – there never seems to be enough call centre staff to deal with the volume of incoming calls.  The trouble is this mantra is so familiar, that the customer only really hears the message ‘we don’t care about customers, we do not give a damn about you, and will waste as much of your time as possible, what’s more you’re being charged for the privilege!’.  This has been known to go on for over an hour – not good if you’re running a business and time is money.  This can present the customer with an awkward decision – do they persist or hang up after ‘investing a wasted hour or so’ and try again risking another ridiculous wait from bottom of the queue.

Whilst waiting you are invariably greeted with an endless loop of distorted music, more often than not Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.  In doesn’t really matter what is used, because even this is your all time favourite piece you will detest it by the time the call centre experience is finished.  The music is normally interspersed with the ‘your custom is important’ mantra just to complete the torture.  All this serves to distract you from the salient fact that the longer you wait the more money the organisation makes.  Call Centres are usually attached to 0845 or 0870 paying numbers in the UK, this includes government organisations such as HM Revenue and Customs.  It is galling enough dealing with a tax office without wasting more time and money.  There is a way round this, in the UK most companies and organisations have alternative cheaper or even free numbers – a visit to www.saynoto0870.com can tell you what these numbers are – this site has saved the author a small fortune over the years! 

Eventually if you are lucky and rigor mortis has not set in during the ‘Chinese wait torture’ you may actually speak to someone.  In a way the author feels sorry for call centre staff, because they end up speaking to a constant stream of extremely irate and frustrated customers. 

After the horrendous wait the chances are in the UK you will end up speaking to somebody of Indian origin, not a problem unless that person can barely understand English.  This happened in the author’s experience with BT, where they appear to be employing an overseas call centre on the cheap.  On the same vein you may be speaking to somebody (irrespective of nationality) whom has not the got the slightest clue what you are talking about and hence no idea or expertise on dealing your problem.  The author had an experience with this when asking a complex question with the Value Added Tax (VAT) Section of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, on detecting that the call centre staff did not seem to have a clue, the author asked a simple question ‘What is the Current Rate of VAT?’.  The lack of answer to this extremely simple question (which just about every adult in the UK with an IQ of 50 or more should know) was indicative of the poor level of expertise available. 

Large corporations and organisations use Call Centres to save money and to act to screen customers.  The Call Centre system often employs people who answer questions in trained monkey fashion using a flow diagram or IT system – more than likely they are not experts but answer using prompts using set procedures.  The problem with this is they are not equipped to deal with anything but a straightforward and obvious enquiry.  Complicated enquiries and complaints can leave the customer absolutely frustrated and feel fobbed off by call centre staff lacking knowledge or any responsibility to make the required decision.  Datalite had experience with a BT Call Centre where malfunctioning communications was never efficiently resolved, as the (Indian) Call Centre staff simply did not have the technical expertise to deal with the problem.  Sometimes the customer’s only way of communicating with a company screened by a Call Centre is by letter, ensuring Recorded Delivery is utilised, and it may ultimately take the threat of legal action to get action. 

It is debatable whether it is more frustrating to wait ages to speak to somebody who can’t help or to have the call terminated due to a technical malfunction or by the call centre staff terminating the call.  The author has experienced both.  The Halifax Building society, a UK mortgage company has a call centre system that appears to be designed to frustrate their valued existing customers.  However, to wait ages being brain washed by ‘your custom is important to us’, then to hear a connect tone culminating in a line cutting off – can only be described as pure torture.  HM Revenue & Customs provides a similar experience through their sheer politically correct ideology.  On several occasions the author on being asked whether he had a partner, replied no but did have a wife – apparently this is offensive to some HMRC staff and was cut-off for this alone.  HMRC should respect terms such as spouse, wife, husband, and indeed civil partner.  All these are preferable to the relevant individuals whom prefer not to be lumped in the same category as one night stands! 

It is a mystery why large corporations and organisations use Voice Mail at all – why utilise a facility that is generally detested?  Voice Mail systems may well be introduced with the best of intentions of improving customer service, but are not improved/modified when customer service plummets in practice .  Another possible explanation is the pure financial one, money can be saved and also raised through sneaky call charges where a lengthy wait adds to the coffers.   The sad thing is the process can screen the customer from the expertise available within the organisation, and ultimately generate a terrible PR image.  

There are companies in the UK that do seem to get their voicemail right.  Recent examples include OPAL a UK based communications company that offer a speedy and expert response, and Paypal who use an Irish based call centre whom are invariably cheerful, friendly, and efficient.  Some companies such as Lloyds Bank and Scottish Power use a call back system during busy periods – this is a great customer facility.  Datalite UK Ltd ( www.dluk.info ) does not use a Voice Mail at all, but offers customers a traditional telephone service, with an answer-phone and call back option for busy periods.

About The Author
John D Henry BA BSc, Managing Director of  DATALITE UK LTD
Wholesale Supplier of quality photo and picture frames at https://www.dataliteframes.co.uk.
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