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May 20, 2009 > Book Review: "Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us"

Book Review: "Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us"

By Emily Yellin

You had a pressing little problem.

It started when you called a customer service hotline. The call connected, you pressed "1" for English, "2" for tech support, "4" for the specific product, then "9" to get a live operator.

But pressing "9" connected you somewhere else, so you pressed "0" and heard "Thank you, goodbye." You had to start all over with your pressing little problem, pressing this number and that until you hung up in frustration.

What happened to customer service?

Author Emily Yellin wondered that same thing, and in her new book, "Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us," she takes a look at the evolution of customer relations and what is done when you press "1."

Ever since commerce was created, customers have complained about their ability to complain. Studies have shown that consumers overall are dissatisfied with one out of every five purchases, but only a small percentage of those unhappy customers contact the corporation about it.

They figure nothing would be done anyhow, so why bother?

To battle what some believe are uncaring companies, websites have offered tips on getting around automated systems. Call center employees have gone on strike on behalf of their customers. Consumers are angry and disgusted by what they perceive is corporate apathy.

To their credit, Yellin points out, many businesses have been feverishly trying to solve the problem as best they can. Outsourcers (the second-least expensive method of customer service) are ever-vigilant for cultural differences and lingual accent elimination. Customer assistance via websites seems to be catching on. Businesses are beginning to understand that stellar customer service is not a necessary evil, but keeps customers coming back.

Still, when you're frustrated you don't care about that. You want answers now. When you finally get through to that live person on the phone, it helps to remember that he or she is human, too. She might be a grandmother working from home in South Dakota. You might speak to a college student in Argentina or a mother in Nicaragua. The man with the Indian accent may be more educated than you are.

With a consumer's need for understanding and a journalist's curiosity, Yellin traveled the world in search of stories of customer service successes and failures.

What she discovered will amaze you and shock you. Or maybe not.

Yellin found people who are ferocious about customer service, including reports of CEOs taking their turn at call center phones. She spoke with people who make the study of customer relations their life's work. Conversely, she reports how blogs and websites have forced businesses to take action on poor customer relations and how some companies still don't get it.

Please listen carefully, as your options have changed. For businesses that want to spend their customer-relations money wisely, "Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us" gives plenty of positive ideas. For frustrated customers, it's a reminder that the voice on the other end of the phone belongs to somebody just trying to make a living.

c.2009, Free Press
$26.00 / $34.00 Canada
292 pages, includes index

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