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High on frustration, low on satisfaction : call centers’ phone menus

In the word of service there’s one thing that really drives me crazy : call centers’ phone menus. You know the feeling. You’ve got an issue and have to dial a national number to get assistance.

“Press 1 for English, 2 for French, 3 for Dutch, 4 for German, 5 for Italian, 6 for Finnish, 7 for Esperanto”.

By the time all options have been spelled out you have forgotten which choice to make and press a number randomly. “Guten Tag and willkomen bei unserem Service call center …” Sh** … you wanted it in French and can’t go back. Let’s hang up and dial again. At least now you know you must be attentive and press the right number without waiting.

Other horror stories of phone menus

Besides the lengthy menus that will give you the impression you suffer from Alzheimer disease, here are the two other most frequent flaws of those systems:

Mistake #1: ask the customer the same information ten times … but in different ways

Many systems are so poorly designed (probably by engineers who haven’t never used such a system themselves) that you’ll have to enter the same information several times. Companies probably want to make sure you can judge by yourself how creative they are. Honestly I’d just prefer you’re efficient.

It happened to me last week when calling Atos Worldline, which manages banking cards in the country.

“for security reasons, please enter your postal code, the day you were born, the month you were born, the year you were born, …”

When you finally get someone on the phone the first question you’ll get is “What’s your postal code?” and the second “What’s your birth date?”. Why the hell did you ask me to enter that information on my phone if you’re asking it again orally ? You know the feeling, don’t you?

Most commonly firms will ask you to dial your customer or account number, press # …. And the magic will happen. You’ll have to repeat it to each customer representative you’ll talk to. It rings a bell, doesn’t it?

Mistake #2 : I can’t find my way in your f***** menu

I’m sure you know this feeling too. You have an issue and want to get it fixed. Pretty common those days with all the firms that don’t bother about customer satisfaction.

You dial in, and here you go :

“Press 1 for an issue with product A, press 2 if you’re using product B, press 3 if your product is provided by your employer, press 4 ….”

At the end of the menu you wonder “which key should I press”. You press 3 and then it goes on … “press 1 for A, press 2 for B, ….” … once again you make a choice and then the unexpected happens. You hear “Dear customer, we are sorry, but we are not responsible for those products. Please see directly with the call center of the manufacturer” … A variant is : “Dear customer, we are sorry but are offices are currently closed”.


Those automated answering systems are just the most machiavellian systems ever made. They ensure maximal frustration, dissatisfaction. However from the company viewpoint they are very effective. People will become so frustrated that they will do their best to prevent using them. The company will then proudly be achieving an enhancement of its KPI’s. In the brainless heads of marketing managers less calls means more satisfaction.

I’m sorry to tell it you guys: “you’re very wrong”

If you want to know more about designing systems that respect your customers and enhance their satisfaction, make sure you talk to us first. Before being marketing specialists, we are also consumers fighting for more satisfaction and respect.

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Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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