‘Press 1 for sales’ means you hate your customers

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always resented ringing companies only to be forced through menu after menu of “press 1 for this, press 2 for that”. Sometimes the menus are so ill-conceived that none of the options offer what I need. I end up just pressing random numbers in the hope that some button, eventually, will get me through to a human being.

The supporters of these systems obviously think they make businesses more efficient. What rubbish: they’re just an indication that the staff are badly trained and their computer systems are pants.

Why do I say this? Well, in a good company, all the staff – whether sales, customer care or accounts – ought to be able to arrange orders and to fix problems. It’s no good telling customers, “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to put you through to another department. My computer system doesn’t let me sell to you”. That’s infuriating for customers – especially if they then end up stuck in a queue for 15 minutes.

And messing customers about like reduces your ability to make repeat sales. If your customer care team can end a call saying, “I see you bought ink cartridges from us in March. Do you need any more of them?”, you can turn a non-sales department in a source of revenue.

Of course, customers love this sort of flexibility. One of my clients, the software company Accountz, has recently junked its “press 1” routine. It found that their different departments knew the products well enough that everyone a large percentage of calls could be answered by anyone.

The result? The staff are constantly told by their customers how their telephone answering is a breath of fresh air. They’ve seen the light – will you?

Alex Singleton is a public relations trainer and consultant.

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