HomeFebruary 2019Avoiding the App Trap

Avoiding the App Trap

Waiting in the bus stationDear Customer Service Representative with the Oxymoronic Job Title:

Before we finally connected, after my holding through 28 minutes of music and a recorded message, I evolved the following observations:

The term “elevator music” should require the modifier, “Blood Pressure.” The recorded message superimposed over or under the music – you know – the one that says that you value my call and that it will be answered momentarily – does nothing to minimize the mounting irritation over the lack of response to the customer phone line that must ring or light up in your workplace. I can imagine you and other employees high-fiving each other as you snicker over the unanswered call that does not hang up or that does hang up and calls right back, hope springing ever eternal.


Both the recorded message and you referred me to an application (app) to assist me with my request.

You show me another so-called customer service representative who refers a caller to an app, and I’ll show you a lazy bum of an employee who does not want to talk to customers.


Ironically, your app provides the customer service phone line I just called, that is, in addition to the multitude of on-line options that I eschewed in hopes that I might interact with a live human. Humans have brains, hearts, and souls and the capacity to process and act on the needs of other humans. Apps take up space on my smart phone.


Without mentioning your organization’s name, I will volunteer that you are in business to serve, among other demographics, a senior customer base. Given what I perceive is a 25- to 30-year difference between our ages, you may think me a rigid, tech-averse old lady.


Wrong! I’m not rigid; your app is rigid. It does not accept questions or offer explanations or look things up. That’s the job of Customer Service. Oh – that’s right; you don’t actually practice customer service. To borrow, with full credit and attribution, from the Hotels.com TV commercial, referring me to an app is to make their “Captain Obvious” caricature look like a creative genius rather than a guy in a bell captain uniform whose unending narrative of everything is so obviously annoying.


To mischaracterize people who don’t want to use your app as tech averse is self-serving on the part of the tech enslaved who are ashamed to appear not “with it” amongst their peers. It is safe to assume that most people who call a telephone line also know how to use a computer but find that it is not always useful or practical. If the caller experienced a power failure or a blown WIFI, the caller may have nothing more than a landline to call the Customer Service line.

I propose that you revise your Customer Service telephone operating procedures so that current and future customers will continue to pay for your products and services. That’s the long view. The short term but more dramatic benefit is that your outfit will not be featured in the latest on-line slam book like Yelp.


Here are a few tips:

  1. Answer the phone within 10 seconds. Say your organization’s name and the name of the answerer. Employ people to do this or expand the duties of existing staff who would benefit from being characterized in periodic reviews as willing to go above and beyond one’s own job description. Nowadays, in a competitive market the “can do” attitude over the “it’s not my job” response could be a job saver.


  1. Don’t answer, “Please hold.” If you believe you cannot listen to the caller’s request this minute but you know that you will, say instead,” Would you care to record a voicemail message with your phone number and expect a call back in 5 minutes, or can you hold for 60 to 90 seconds and I will return to help you? Give the caller a realistic sense that he or she will connect with a human who can listen and not a recorded monologue that insults the caller by saying, “you can download our app or visit our website. “ Heck – we know that. See “tech averse,” above.
  2. Speak slowly and clearly. As a retired fraud investigator, I can tell you that someone who speaks too rapidly may be masking inaccurate or deceptive content. Or, he or she may simply be mimicking the tone, volume, and cadence of modern American Youth-speak. I have normal hearing and am an attentive listener. I don’t place my customer service phone calls when surrounded by ambient noise like TV or supermarket public address broadcast music. If I can’t understand the customer service representative, he or she has not served this customer.

I saw an ad for a Customer Service App. Would we be in violation of the labor codes if we advertised, “Apps may not apply.”



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