The only time I call a company is because I have a question which can't be answered on their website. I'll dig around their site for a while, search their forums, and if I can't find something within a couple minutes, I immediately go to Google. If I'm calling a company, it's because I have already tried the paths which seem obvious to me – and I'm a relatively smart guy – so don't tell me to go “check the website”.
For example, after calling a hosting company of a customer, I was assured that “Your call is important to us, the current waiting time is 15 minutes” and was promptly greeted by a human… 35 minutes later. I asked my question, got my answer, and it took a total of 30 seconds. The worst part was that the customer actually worked for this hosting company.
Or I call my (former) cellphone company and put in my phone number. Then once I get a human, I give it again. There seems to be little intelligence* in these systems. Why are each of you asking me the same question over and over? You are the phone company, I'm calling into your system… it seems like you should have the ability to use the information already available to you. [The highly esteemed Duane wrote about this recently and gave a link to a IVR cheat sheet.]
Or I call my current cable company about our non-functional cable modem. The modem had been provisioned and the configuration had not changed since the last time it was used, so I assumed the problem was on their line. After seeing that we couldn't even watch cable television, I was 99.999% sure that the problem was on their line. When I called, the answer was – and I'm not joking – “have you looked at the troubleshooting area of the website?” Huh?
To any company who reads this, your customers are your friend. In fact, they're more than your friend, they are your lifeblood. Unless you can force them to continue paying for your services (via physical force or lack of alternatives), customers will determine if you have a job. If they're calling you, you should assume that they've probably already tried to find the information online. You should assume that they have a brain. Your customer service staff should deviate from the script as necessary.
We can be your emissaries or your enemies.
* Disclosure: We're still in the middle stages of a Proof of Concept, but CaseySoftware is working to make this problem a little bit better. We are working with an IVR company to inject some additional intelligence into the situation via a simple linkage to the Open Source Customer Relationship Management System SugarCRM. We are already retrieving some basic customer information to give to the service staff, but soon we hope to return Order information to the customer via touch tone interface.