This post is prompted by a TV ad — yes. Really. It’s an insurance ad, and although I have no idea of the quality of the company, the ad agency that created it definitely knows how to sell an idea — at least to me.

It shows various people trying to get through on the phone to other insurance companies, and going through phone tree hell. The best part is watching a male caller repeatedly saying “Representative!” all the while getting more and more frustrated. Of course it also shows how easily anyone can get through the insurance company . . . and maybe it’s even true. 

It reminded me of a post I started a few months ago, and I thought I’d finally finish it up.


A while back I briefly became a raving lunatic. It all started so innocently; I saw in The Boston Sunday Globe newspaper that the French Open was on and being televised on ESPN2. Great! I could do stuff and watch some awesome tennis!


I couldn’t find out where ESPN2 was. I had recently moved (all of 30 miles) and the cable company’s channel numbers here are different. I spent about 20 minutes fruitlessly trying to find out on the Internet. I went up and down about 200 channel numbers on the TV guide, but I couldn’t find it (it was NOT the one right after ESPN; that would have been too easy). I gave in, aggravated (but not overly so), and called the cable company.

Whoever decided the cable company’s new phone tree is an improvement needs to be locked away. Forever. Or forced to use the phone tree to figure a way to get out of prison.

First of all, there’s the overly chirpy voice asking idiotic questions and sounding SO HAPPY when I pressed 1 or 2. Then there’s the issue of why I was calling; none of the options fit my simple need – to find out the channel number for ESPN2 – so we kept circling back to the “main menu.” Oh, yeah. That helped.

I could not get an agent.
I could not get an agent.
until I called three times.

I did finally get an agent by talking gibberish in response to a voice prompt, and she turned out to be very nice and very helpful. In about 30 seconds, she answered my question, and then showed me how to find out where other channels could be found.

Did I keep my cool? Yes, mostly. I knew the agent answering the phone hadn’t created any of the idiocy I was facing, and that I needed to help her help me.

And she did, starting with what she didn’t say and what she did say.

She DID NOT say, “Hi, Ms. Rooks – how are you feeling/doing today?” Given we do not call when we’re happy, that phrase – well-intentioned but stupid as can be – sets my teeth on edge. And I’ll bet I’m not alone.

This agent did it perfectly by asking, “How may I help you today?” God bless her and whoever trained her. It helped enormously to keep me from getting any crazier.

So, finally I was able to watch some tennis and get back to enjoying my Sunday morning. All’s well that ends well, right?

But the experience triggered a few thoughts that all business owners should consider.

Questions for Business Owners

  1. Do your customers ever face anything like this? Do you even know? And if you do know – what are you doing about it?
  2. When is the last time you called your own company and tried to get help quickly? Could you? 
  3. Have you tried to find the information on your company’s Web site? Is it easy to find, or does the lack of clarity make the customers even crazier than they were when they logged on?

Suggestions for the cable company and others . . . 

  1. Provide customers with a channel listing in ALPHABETICAL ORDER, not in numerical order. With hundreds of channels available to most of us, we don’t even know where to look. If it were in alphabetical order, we could find the right channel in a flash.
  2. Give us a quicker way to reach an agent, so that we can remain pleasant and get our questions answered quickly and easily. It may cost more for staffing, but what is the cost of losing customers? With social media full of horror stories, do you really think we don’t tell EVERYONE how you treat us?
  3. Rethink the phone tree’s specific requests. Are they all necessary? Couldn’t you give customers the option of going directly to an agent when none of the options fits the customer’s need?
  4. Tone down the chirpy voice!

The ideas above are what I told the survey that I agreed to take, even though I only got about a minute to actually talk. I only hope someone actually listens to the surveys and takes them seriously.

I am not holding my breath.