Hanging on the telephone

How long is too long?

We’ve all been there, the need to speak to a real person in our ever increasing world of automation.  ‘Self service’ has become the norm and most of the time it works, but when it doesn’t we just need to pick up the phone and speak to someone.  That’s often where an already tense situation turns sour.

So, just how long are you prepared to hang on?

A recent broadband issue with Sky saw me waiting, and waiting, and waiting to try to get through.


After 32 minutes I gave up.  I mean Robbie Williams singing ‘Let Me Entertain You’ is bearable but after the tenth loop and losing the will to live, the last thing he was doing was entertaining me.  It ended in me cancelling my service with Sky and switching to another provider.  A blog post will follow shortly on that subject.

British Airways are also notorious in keeping you hanging on and similar to Robbie above, Lakmé’s Flower Duet on a constant loop turns what was a beautiful aria into a form of hysteria never wanting to hear it again.

I’m guessing it’s just as bad for the poor person on the other end of the telephone line when they eventually pick.  Having to talk to someone who has just endured over 30 minutes of hypnosis by mundane hold music and ‘your call is important to us’ messages is always going to be tense.

As our world becomes faster and faster with everything on demand it seems the pace is going in reverse when you need to actually speak to someone.

In my own view, it should take no more than 3 rings to get through to speak to someone. I can already hear the sighs of people reading this thinking it’s unrealistic but if a business truly cares about their customers it shouldn’t be so difficult to contact someone.  First Direct are always quick to pick up the phone and have built their organisation around this promise. They don’t force you to press 300 buttons before you’re put on hold for another 30 minutes to be asked the same questions when you finally get through.  KLM are another business who have revolutionised their customer contact through social media.  Years ago you could be waiting over an hour to speak to someone, now you can have a response within minutes.

It circles back to the same old point that I feel many organisations never truly understand what their customers go through as they never go through it themselves.  As they thumb through endless reports and ‘scorecards’, insisting wait times are ‘satisfactory’ but completely missing what their customers are enduring on a daily basis.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, my only advice is to not give up. Try, try, try, post on social media to get a quicker response, write to the CEO and if you’ve been hanging on and on and on, always ask to be reimbursed for your call charges.  Don’t accept a lackluster attitude or service you are frustrated by.  We must all speak out.

Always think twice when choosing a company, especially for services such as utilities, insurance, banking or travel.  Are they easy to get hold of when you need them?  Will they help you out when you really need it?  As we look to tighten our belts even further, sometimes the cheapest doesn’t always end up being the cheapest.  Check out reviews, speak to friends, take advice.

The most important thing to remember is the person you first speak to is probably as frustrated as you.

As always, I’d love to hear your stories, good, bad or indifferent.

Not your cup of tea?

Sometimes things don’t always go to plan. I find it fascinating how companies try to put things right, or sometimes they don’t bother, or worse they don’t realise there’s a problem.

I took a flight recently with Virgin Atlantic in Business Class. Expectations are high, it’s Virgin, they sell a dream, a wonderland, an almost hedonistic existence that you’re choosing something better than the rest. So, I don’t know, but I guess I was surprised when this landed on my table, literally.


Call me a perfectionist?  It wasn’t a bumpy flight but it’s the little things that make all the difference to me, especially from a British company who pride themselves on being better than the rest.   Making a decent cup of tea should surely be part of their DNA?  I did of course pass on my feedback. The standard responses came my way: ‘sorry, sorry, this is not typical, we will have a word with whoever’ followed by the usual throw of air miles to shut me up.

I know, I know, a first world problem, eyes roll; “think yourself lucky you had tea in a mug” but this is Virgin Atlantic and this is business class. It’s something I still remember and it makes me ask the question about standards. What’s acceptable and what isn’t? Don’t get me wrong, airline cabin crew have a thankless job at times but it must come down to common sense. Would the guy who served the cup of tea be happy to receive it himself?  Big businesses’ like to lament about ‘putting yourself in your customers’ shoes’; ‘put the customer first’ blah.  I guess it’s the difference between saying it and actually doing it that makes the difference.

As a contrasting experience, here’s one I observed recently at the restaurant chain Cote Brassiere and how they made a bad situation a whole lot better.

Again, things go wrong.  A guys order was basically forgotten.  He continually had to remind staff about his order.  He wasn’t making a big deal out of it.  Of course when he came to pay the age old question: “was everything OK?” followed by the British awkwardness whether to complain or not. It clearly wasn’t OK.  Fortunately he quietly added “well not really, it took you over 30 minutes to serve my breakfast but I understand you’re busy”. He left it at that but unbeknown to him the staff member had mentioned his feedback to her manager. Within a minute, the manager came over, quietly apologised and told him that breakfast was on them.  He insisted that’s not what he wanted but the manager insisted and apologised once more.  I was happy for him and impressed by how the staff dealt with it, quietly, none-confrontational and in the moment.  It was great service from Cote in Kingston in my view and I think the guy in question walked away happy.

Have you had any similar experiences?  I’d love to hear about them.