The Game of Telephone

Fun & Games

We all remember the game of telephone from when we were kids. Someone starts off the game by whispering a simple phrase into the next person’s ear, and it gets passed down a chain of people as one repeats and whispers that phrase into the ear of the next person. Eventually, after several interactions or so, the final person in the chain announces what they heard, and it usually doesn’t quite match up with the original phrase. More often than not, it can stray from the original to the point of absurdity - despite the object of the game being that the phrase should be altered as little as possible.

The game that no-one wants to play

Having a message become convoluted is all fun and games when we’re kids. It’s not as fun when you’re a customer dealing with a large company. Whether you’re looking to buy, getting onboarded, or need to contact support, getting passed along from person to person, team to team, and organization to organization is never fun. Navigating through endless phone screens, automated responses, and transfers between people who are completely unaware of the status of your situation is an exercise in futility. Yet, it happens with alarming regularity.

Organizations that have multiple departments and teams are notoriously bad at giving the people within those teams a comprehensive view of where a customer is and what they need. They have no centralized, transparent way of viewing what’s been accomplished thus far, what still needs to be done, and who else needs to be involved to get them there. That’s why people get so frustrated when dealing with companies that have dispersed teams. 

More automation isn’t the answer

Automation, in most cases, serves as a point of frustration for customers because computers are blind to context. Usually, dealing with a bot over the phone isn’t helpful to the customer - the obligatory listing of account information that the customer already knows (which lasts 1-2 minutes at least) before an interaction can take place, the switching from prompt to prompt (none of which can help the customer with their issue), and the occasional dropping of the call make for a maddening experience. Finally, if that customer has some luck and ends up getting to an agent - after yelling “Agent!” into the phone several times or smashing down the “0” button - they are completely exasperated. That doesn’t make for a pleasant experience for anyone - the customer or the agent.

Smart automation, however, is.

Automation should complement agents, making their jobs easier as they are delivered context about that customer and their specific needs. It should empower the agent to solve a customer’s issues efficiently and completely, not hinder them by taking away their agency to perform certain tasks. More than anything, automation should not be used as a stonewalling tactic on behalf of the company. When customers have to deal with an automated system that cannot help them & seems specifically designed to get them to give up, nobody wins. The customer is left frustrated and angry, and the company’s reputation suffers as a result. Customer service (at any stage of a customer’s journey) should be about just that - serving the customer. When organizations return to that tenet as the center of their customer service philosophy, everyone is left better off.

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