Your call is very important to us. So enjoy this bland 80s hit for next 40 mins

The Daily Mail is launching a campaign to make companies pay a fine if they don’t answer the phone in 10 minutes.

I hope they are successful – but the standards they are setting are pathetic.

Fifty years ago I had a job which involved doing some work for Unilever. Their executives were very helpful and gave me good advice on the standards of service for which I should aim.

The phone had to be answered within three rings! If there wasn’t a human being dealing with the caller within that time, all hell broke loose at what they all considered was this total collapse of acceptable standards. I kid you not.

If it was good enough for Unilever, it was good enough for me. Many years later an American Express buyer – the biggest in the country – was talking to my chairman, who said that he was very pleased they liked the product. The Amex man put him right; he said they didn’t like the product, which was considered to be indifferent, but they used it all the time because it was so easy to buy! Our phones were always answered by human beings in three rings.

That’s what I don’t understand. A good telephone service keeps you in business, but so often when we phone today we are now treated as suspicious characters rather than customers.

Most organisations we want to look after us have got a load of security questions. Where do we live? What’s our mother’s name?  What’s our email address? Or they transfer us to the department that can look after us after all this questioning, but we’re fifth in the queue and while we hang on, the costs are rising and there is interminable music, but no apology for keeping us waiting.

It’s no use blaming a lack of staff. If the business is big enough to need a large team of complaint handlers, then cut down the complaints or get some more people in.

There is the additional problem that regional accents are hard to understand. So tell the handlers to ask at the outset of the conversation if they are speaking loudly enough. And tell the handlers to speak reasonably slowly.

There are other nonsenses coming about as well. Some organisations will only take credit cards and not cheques. Some won’t even take cash. Can you imagine the Chair at the Annual General Meeting telling the shareholders that the reason the profits are down is because some people won’t pay by credit card!

Dictating to customers is always a lousy idea. The objective of any good businessman is to find out what the customer wants and then provide it. There are senior executives running whole departments trying to discover the magic formula, and at the same time the Accounts Department is making the provision of good service impossible by a lot of pettifogging rules.

You know what will happen. New companies which provide decent service will flourish  and some great names will disappear. The Daily Mail is trying to solve the problem but firing the arrogant Directors may be the right solution in the meantime. I can name one large energy company which gets it right, so it can be done.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book