Paying for Faster Customer Service – Brilliant Innovation or Terrible Idea?

Ken Landoline

Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Segmenting customers into different levels of service by classifying them into distinct groupings (e.g., platinum, gold and silver) and doling out different levels of service may be common practice for airlines and financial institutions. However, it is normally implemented by segmenting users based on usage and/or spending levels prior to the service cycle and providing different access points like unique dial-in numbers or dedicated websites for priority service.
  • Having all customers call the same number, join the same queue and then openly soliciting them to pay an extra fee to move up in the service line is something very different that will prompt some long-time customers to wonder why their loyalty has little value to the company.

As consumers we are all becoming accustomed to paying a premium for better and/or faster service. We do this to get into premium lanes on a freeway, priority boarding on an airplane, and even to get to the head of the line at some theme parks. However, when I read last week that EE, a mobile phone company in the UK had introduced a charge for jumping ahead in the queue on customer service calls it just sounded like a bad idea that, if accepted by their customers, could fundamentally change the landscape in customer care forever. EE has implemented this new option in their customer service center by having an automated message greeting customers calling into their centers during busy times and offering to jump them up in the queue for the flat fee of fifty pence, or roughly one U.S. dollar. Although EE has not reported on what percentage of customers are opting for the offer, the good news is that, according to the articles I read, EE mobile customers are speaking out against the offer and strongly rejecting the idea of paying extra for expedited service. EE customers, especially those who have been customers for years, are unhappy that all calls are not being treated equally as they had been in the past. Several commented they are considering switching mobile carriers to those not charging such a fee.

I would urge consumers running into such “pay-for-faster-service offers” to reject the urge to buy into the concept. While we cannot stop all customer segmentation techniques nor the prioritizing of service based on spending levels and net future value of the customer calculations, the implementation of such plans should be better thought through by the businesses considering such a plan. Companies contemplating such a move should reconsider and spend some time evaluating available technologies designed to reduce caller queues by reducing the number of calls coming into their contact centers, such as self-service websites, texting strategies and other call diversion techniques.

Once customers call into a service center they should be treated equally. This should include free offers such as announcements of estimated wait times or an offer to be called back at their convenience once an agent becomes available. If businesses want to pre-segment customers and provide alternate contact points with shorter wait times for premier clients that is fine. I would only ask that once a customer calls into a contact center he/she be handled in the order in which they called. In my mind, no customer should ever be made to feel like a second-class citizen because they cannot, or do not want to pay an additional fee for faster service. The bottom line is that the concept of paying to jump ahead in the queue as proposed by the EE mobile phone company is a terrible idea. I would be interested in hearing what you think.

About Ken Landoline
As Principal Analyst within the Current Analysis Business Technology and Software group Ken Landoline tracks the enterprise unified communications and contact center (UCCC) markets.

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