Plot revenge on call centres with this new app
Thanks to call centres the British people are a lot like Debbie Harry’s Blondie: ‘Hanging on the Telephone’.
According to a recent report, we typically waste around 45 hours each year waiting to be connected to a call centre representative.
This won’t be surprising to students of Behavioural Economics who know that – rather counter intuitively – people are more willing to hold on longer if told all lines are busy compared with being promised that their call will be answered soon. Why? The notion of having freely available operators suggests an unpopular service that is consequently not worth holding for. Whereas a message saying that all lines are busy and requesting people to hold or ring back later encourages them to stay holding in the queue longer as it suggests a popular service worth waiting for.
Many a company plays on the lure of this scarcity value, which dictates that if we perceive something to be scarce it takes on a greater value in our eyes, whereas if it is plentiful the perceived value falls. Apple is a skilled practitioner in the art of creating scarcity – when launching new products it creates a lot of buzz and excitement in the marketplace and then holds back on distribution at the launch to further heighten demand.
From call centre hell –
to hell with call centres
However, coming back to our call centre example it looks like the tables are about to be turned. A new phone app has been developed that promises to ‘give you back’ your waiting time.
The ‘WeQ4U’ service claims to not only take the angst out of contacting call centres, but will also save users about 30p per minute. Through use of ‘queuing robot’ technology people can put the phone down when told to wait for a call centre to pick up. The phone stays connected and will automatically ring the user’s own phone once an operator is free.
So in a nice twist of fate call centres will now be held in line before being put through to customers.
Creating Frankenstein’s monster?
For some reason the above reminds me of the story of the nursery school, which fed up with parents picking up their offspring late decided to introduce penalty charges. This sounded great in principle but rather than reducing late pick-ups the penalties boosted tardiness as it effectively legitimised the offering of a cheap baby-sitting service.
Likewise with the call centre app. While the intention is good, I can’t help wonder if in a similar way this creates a Frankenstein’s monster where the consumer ends up becoming the ultimate loser. While people may get back their waiting time they could still end up paying more for this ‘convenience’ as call centre managers realising waiting time is no longer an issue reduce their staffing service levels accordingly. And as this ultimately increases the holding time it also increases the profits of the app provider. So an app that is meant to give control back to the consumer could inadvertently be playing directly into the hands of the call centres.
This begs the question: Is it payback time or will Joe Public still be left ‘Hanging on the Telephone’?