Embarq announced that customers who call their customer service center during business hours will “now be greeted by a live person instead of the usual automated system most companies use today.” Hallelujah. While I applaud for making this move, the fact that they have to issue a press release to announce it is illustrative of the pitiful state of customer service in the overall telecom sector, and well, customer service in general. Large companies now feel compelled to tell us that we will encounter human interaction when reaching out to them. What’s next – press releases announcing technicians might actually show up on time?

This is not a sweeping indictment on all service providers. Many truly understand and value customer service, and in fact, use it to their competitive advantage. I also understand that companies with millions of customer relationships have to be efficient with customer interactions or risk unmanageable customer care costs. But I do wonder if it’s gone too far. Customers are too often met with confusing phone menus, with too many levels, which often lead to the wrong department anyway. Companies have become far too dependent on these automated systems and have lost track of the importance of human interaction. “Our research shows that consumers prefer a live agent for telephone support because many of today’s automated systems are missing the mark in terms of customer expectations,” said Sheryl Kingstone, Director of Enterprise Research for in Embarq’s press release. Has it come to this – we need research from the Yankee Group to tell us the importance of meeting customer expectations. How about this – in an increasingly competitive landscape, companies have a real opportunity to differentiate themselves by simply inserting a more human feel. There – not nearly as expensive as research from Yankee.

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