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Customer Service by Phone

Is there anyone there?


I’ve just run a LinkedIn Poll with a simple question


You are in front line customer service, you have a person in front of you and the phone is ringing which would you prioritise?


The person in front of you

The person on the telephone


I was really surprised by the results.

88% of people said they would focus on the person in front of them. Some people did indeed comment that it was important to manage both and that they would ask the person’s permission to ask the phone and ask the caller to hold, but they were in the minority.

Does it feels to you that we deprioritise the telephone now?

I was always taught that we answer the phone ( with the person’s permission ) as they weren’t able to see that we were busy helping other customers. This was the norm then.

Of course, life is a bit more nuanced than that, and tech has moved on enormously since that was drilled into me working in a building society.  It depends what context we are in with customers or patients ( is there a huge in person queue that we need to help or just one person ) and what back up we have ( would the phone go to a voicemail, or another extension )

One thing that is often overlooked and that we need to consider is that the customer experience might start by telephone and if it feels that this is ignored then we start the customer experience in deficit.

Let me give you a simple example, the hairdressers – the phone used to ring and the stylist would ask permission and answer the phone. Now they leave the phone to ring, which means that the person phoning for an appointment has to leave a message. Great when you are having your hair cut, but the reality that it now takes several phone calls and messages to get an appointment booked.

Or my experience with a dentist recently. They wouldn’t book an appointment unless they received payment upfront. As I was on holiday and relying on public wi-fi I wasn’t keen to do that. Their suggestion – wait until I was back from holiday and hope that the appointment hasn’t gone, or agree a mutually convenient time for me to call from Italy so that they would answer the phone, because they don’t do that routinely anymore. This is a private dentists, their dentists are good – and by the way this was a referral for a particular type of scan, as I’ve been having ear problems and my face had swollen and gone numb. This wasn’t a routine appointment. While it was a referral I had been there before and been treated. This whole experience was manged by emails that felt as though they had been written by a very flowery but not very customer focused chat bot.


Then we throw generational differences into the mix. Younger people prefer text based communication, and may be anxious about speaking with people on the telephone because it isn’t something they have experience of. Older people tend to prefer to speak to someone, to get it sorted there and then.


Companies see a benefit for moving people to digital channels, and that works well for the routine – repeat orders for example. Digital service is seen as being cheaper than telephone customer service. Whichever service is being offered it needs to be simple to navigate and helpful to customers.


What first impression are your customers or patients experiencing if they choose to call?  Why not call or mystery shop to find out. You might be surprised.

Diane Banister

June 2023