Want to save money on customer service? Fine – but keep it human.

As smartphones have got larger and more expensive, I have become more and more expert at breaking them.

My first smartphone, an iPhone 3G, was perfect for my needs. It fitted snugly in my hand and I could reach every part of the screen with my thumb. Which meant that the likelihood of me dropping it was low.

That phone lasted for years, until the lower half of the screen became unresponsive. So I traded up for an iPhone 4. It seemed sensible at the time.

Little did I know that was where my troubles were to begin. That phone didn’t fit in my hand so well and I was forever dropping it. I’d replaced the screen at least three times before I finally opted for the iPhone 6.

The first screen on that huge handset lasted less than a fortnight. I got through five replacements before I decided to give up on it. And yes, I did put it in a protective case. It just seemed not to be a very good one. Nor did the second one I bought.

Unbreakable and happy

Disinclined to spend money on an even more expensive handset that would get broken, I made do with a robust little Motorola handset that my brother gave me. It wasn’t fancy but it did all I wanted it to. And if I dozed off while reading a book on it, then it would always bounce off the floor unharmed.

In short, I was happy. Until the day I realised that, when I made phone calls, the person at the other end could no longer hear what I was saying. Now, that’s a major flaw in a phone; so last week I bit the bullet and upgraded to an up-to-date Android handset of the same make.

Online ordering woes

Except I didn’t upgrade. I made a complete mess of the online ordering process and accidentally ordered a brand new contract in addition to the pay-monthly SIM contract I already had. What’s more, I ended up with an extra phone number I didn’t want.

So I rang the mobile phone company. After wading through the automated customer deflection system, pressing option 1, 2, 3 or 4 depending on what seemed likely to get me through to a human being, I finally got connected to a call centre in India.

What I needed was simple. To close the old contract and transfer the number to the new contract.

And sure enough, after 20 minutes or so, I was assured it would happen within 48 hours.

Nothing happened

Two days passed and nothing happened. So I rang again, eventually getting through to a call centre on the other side of the world. This time I must have really been on form because I was assured the change would happen within 24 hours.

Another day passed and again, nothing happened. So this time I went to the phone company’s website and initiated an online chat with a so-called ‘guru’.

On the other side of the globe, of course.

This was rather good fun. I was polite but firm. I eventually got a £5 refund and a week’s worth of charges cancelled. I was assured the ‘guru’ was taking personal charge of the issue and that the number transfer would happen by today.

Well, I’m now half way through today and – of course – nothing has happened. So unless a miracle occurs, I’ll be back to square one tomorrow – trying to convince someone thousands of miles away to care sufficiently enough to ask a colleague to make the necessary changes.

Is outsourcing customer service worth it?

Sure, I understand that outsourcing customer service abroad can help cut costs. But it comes at a price – unless the people representing your company can do their jobs as exceptionally well as you’d really like them, then they are going to make mistakes that lose you business.

And if you’re losing business because you’re cutting corners on giving your customers what they need – friendly and expert help that gets acted on – then you need to ask yourself whether you are really saving yourself money in the long run.

That’s why at THP we make a point of having a real, friendly voice answer the phone – a colleague who actually works in one of our offices. We know our clients like it and to be frank it would be madness to outsource the first contact that clients old and new have with our business.

So, if you’re tempted to outsource your customer service, think long and hard. Will the benefits really outweigh the potential losses?

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