Guest opinion: Busting maze of phone prompts is good customer service

There is no substitute for person-to-person connections — people talking with, listening to, and understanding one another. It is called “customer service” and it is the best way to resolve problems and retain customers.

Those employed and embedded in business are more likely to be located on-site, frequently see fellow workers and suppliers, better understand the products and services, and are part of local communities.

So, whatever happened to people answering phones and directing callers to fellow staff members who can help resolve issues? Isn’t it better to have someone in your organization answering the phone and directing calls for assistance?

Yes, but it is more costly. Given the shortage of workers, receptionist positions are harder to fill. Outsourcing to call centers has become an alternative.

Call centers are not new. They have been around for years; however, now they are more sophisticated.

Too often customer service is relegated to answering machines connected to computers programmed with mazes of “phone prompts.” They are designed to keep callers from talking to people.

Just try to escape the maze and reach someone directly. Breaking into the gold-holding vaults at Ft. Knox is easier than circumventing a computer named “Sally or John!”

The global contact center market amounted to almost $340 billion (U.S. dollars) in 2020.

“The industry was expected to grow steadily in the following years to reach a value of $496 billion by 2027,” reported.

The Site Selection Group says call centers which employ more than 2,000 people tend to cluster in larger U.S. metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 million. Lower operation costs in Dallas; Jacksonville, Fla.; Phoenix, San Antonio, and Tampa attract massive operations. No city in Washington, Oregon or California made the Top 20.

While the U.S. houses many large call centers, other nations such as India, Great Britain, Brazil, and the Philippines are strong competitors. In past years, India attracted the most call center investment. That trend is changing.

“It is worth noting that the Philippines overtook India as the top call center in the world in terms of expansion and revenues. The country call center industry steadily expands as much as 30 percent a year, compared to 10-15 percent per year in India,” Magellan Solutions reports.

Philippine-based Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) — a fancy name for call centers — helps in generating 1.3 million direct jobs.

“Not only that, but the industry also helped to create 4.08 million indirect jobs. It also promotes countryside development, producing 280,000 jobs in 23 provinces.”

Why the Philippines? According to Magellan Solutions, the top three reasons are it has a 98.18 percent literacy rate, friendly government policies and neutral accent. “Cost is not a problem. Because of the low cost of living in the country, businesses can save 60-80 percent of operational costs.”

Organizations which are great at sales too often rely on computers to “dial-up” prospects. If someone happens to answer the phone, there is a slight delay and a lively, perky salesperson comes online to initiate the pitch! They instantly become your best friend.

Once sale is consummated, the whole ball game changes. Prospects become “customers” and go into “phone prompt” hell. Our best buddy is off cajoling another prospect.

The successful organizations place as much emphasis on customer service as they do on sales. They are constantly improving products, quickly solving problems, and measuring how their products or services are working. If there is a problem, they want to know immediately and not put customers through the old washing machine ringer to find out.

The sale is the beginning, not the end, of customer service and retention. Since, transactions are increasingly on-line, avoiding “phone prompt” hell is Job 1.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver, Wa. He can be contacted at