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article imageOp-Ed: Bell's 'Priority Call Back' Feature Saves Consumers From Pulling Out Their Hair

By Chris Hogg     Aug 26, 2008 in Technology
Calling an Internet, TV or cellphone provider for support is one of my most-hated activities. It destroys a good mood, as you sit on hold listening a corporate ad play every 15 seconds on a loop. But a new feature from Bell Canada has changed everything.
Digital Journal -- As a journalist who covers technology, Web and business trends on a daily basis, I spend an inordinate amount of time speaking with inventors, analysts, product specialists, PR folk, corporate spokespeople and bloggers about what's new.
And in addition to the usual line-up of industry talking heads, I often make cold-calls to tech support or sales call centers of big telcos and Internet providers to ask how things work and to understand the intricacies of a product or service. I also call in because I find the feedback to be very valuable, as a service rep doesn't know me as a journalist so he or she is not likely to spin a subject in the same manner as a PR specialist (you can learn a lot that way if you're ever in the market for a gadget and don't want to deal with a pushy in-store salesperson).
But calling into tech support or a sales call-in centre can be painful. In fact, painful barely describes the boiling temperature of my blood when I hear "We're sorry. We're experiencing a higher than usual volume of calls. Please stay on the line for the next available agent." This week I had a billing issue with my cellphone provider so I called in and was put on hold for 57 minutes. It was the longest I've ever waited to speak to a service rep, and what made it endlessly frustrating was my cellphone battery died at the hour mark and ended my call -- I didn't even get to speak to a rep.
However, in a recent call to Bell Canada's sales call-in centre to inquire about cellphone features and plans, I was given a pleasant surprise: I didn't have to wait. Instead, I had them call me back when they were ready to talk via a new "priority call back" feature.
The phone call started with me chewing on the end of my pencil as I waited on hold to speak to the next available agent. The typical mind-numbing self-congratulatory corporate boilerplate plays on an audio loop, as a woman's voice starts running through the usual apology for making me wait.
My mind wanders, as I start to think about how much she's paid to lend her voice to a huge multi-national call-in support center. Then I think about how many times she had to repeat certain audio clips because the intonation in her voice was off. Then I laugh to myself as I think about how she feels if she has to call in and listen to her own voice as she waits to find out why her voicemail is not working. Does she believe her own "We're sorry for the delay..." announcement?
Snap. My daydreaming comes to a halt when the robotic voice interrupts to ask me if I would like to be called back in the order my call was received. Translation: I don't have to wait on hold, and instead the automatic dialer will call me back.
I am prompted to enter a phone number where I can be reached, and for a voice recording of my name. I comply and the robo-frustrater tells me the estimated callback time is between 22 and 34 minutes. I didn't have to wait on hold, so I didn't care. I hung up and started timing it.
About 20 minutes later my phone rings. I pick up and robowoman plays her recorded voice asking to put [insert my recorded name] on the phone and press one when that person is on the line. I press one and I'm told I'm next in the queue and this was my priority call back.
Less than one minute later, the phone rang through and I spoke with a sales support agent about costs for features on the Samsung Instinct (check out our review of the phone here). Other than the fact I knew more about the Instinct and Bell's network than the sales rep, the service was exceptional.
In a follow-up interview with Jason Laszlo, Associate Director of Media Relations for Bell Canada, learned the system was actually implemented a number of years ago. In all our calls placed to Bell, however, we'd never experienced it (or we drowned out the robotic voice as white noise and never paid attention to it).
Laszlo says Bell implemented a threshold for the priority call back feature service, so it activates itself only when call volumes are high. Anyone who calls into Bell Mobility's sales, tech support or billing divisions will only hear this option if the wait is longer than two minutes.
"The need to manage call volume is what drove us to look for a suitable solution," said Laszlo in an email. "We decided that this service was most appropriate as it satisfied our call management needs and at the same time improved the client experience."
Bell can't turn over exact numbers of how many people use the service for competitive reasons, but the company says the response rate has been good.
"The system alleviates pressure on our call centres and provides added benefit to clients," said Laszlo. "Our metrics and evaluations support this."
The technology is based on third-party software called Virtual Hold. Laszlo said Bell can even sell this technology to other companies, along with complete integration and tech support to external call center clients.
In the days where robots and audio loops answer our phones and take our messages, I finally feel like I am getting a little bit of power back as a consumer. I'm not entirely sure how prevalent this feature is outside of Canada (give us your feedback if you're a non-Canadian who has seen this service) but inside the country I have never had the pleasure of not waiting.
Someone at Bell needs to be called into a boardroom and congratulated for this idea. Someone at the other big telcos needs to be scolded for not coming up with it first.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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