Let’s add Interrupt capability to customer support systems

I’m sure this happened to you: you call the support number of your bank/phone company/whatever, go patiently through all the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menus, get shunted to an “all agents are currently busy” music, waste long minutes listening, and finally get a human to talk to. You explain your request, and the agent politely says “Let me put you on hold while I find out the information”. Before you can protest, you’re back on the music!

Which goes on and on, and you have no idea whether the agent is really digging up the information, or he had a heart attack, or he simply forgot about you… the music just drones on. Doubt starts gnawing: should you hang up and start over? Maybe he’s just seconds from picking the line again? Anguish, anger, and unhappiness fill you. And if you’re in the middle of some bank transaction you don’t want to abort, and you have a meeting starting in 3 minutes, you really need to ask the agent what’s going on – but he’s just out of your reach. This is definitely not a good customer experience.

So, what can we do about this? What is needed is a protocol we used to have when I was an amateur radio operator. Back then, people would speak in turn on the radio waves: …AB1CC, this is XY7ZZ, over! Roger XY7ZZ, this is AB1CC… But we had a mechanism for getting a word in sideways if something urgent came up, say another ham with an emergency communication: you could wait for a pause between words and say “Break-break!” and the talking party would shut up and listen. We had an Interrupt capability.

This capability is what we need in those service desks: a mechanism – say, some key sequence on the phone – that would cause the line to go back from hold to the agent that parked it there. Even the knowledge that you could, if you wanted to, get the agent back and ask how much longer is he going to take – would make you feel a lot better, much less helpless and frustrated.

Take note, my dear bank – give us back some control!

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