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Influx interview-

June 19, 2007

We all know the feeling of wanting to talk to a live person, when we get placed in phone tree hell. is planning to help by offering a web service that allows people to get the right number to get in touch with a live human being. The website looks a little hard to navigate and not to pleasing on the eye, but the idea is right and perhaps they will get around to making the experience more appealing.

Here’s an interview I did with the founder, Clement Wang.

1. Briefly describe the genesis of the company?
was born out of frustration — we were setting up some travel arrangements for a trip, and had to make some last minute changes to our flight itinerary.  As it turned out, I had to make several calls to several airlines to get everything sorted out.  Each call I made to the airlines, I had to sit through layers upon layers of phone tree menus and options before being put through to an operator.  By the end of the process I had spent 45 minutes, only 5 minutes of which were spent talking to someone about sorting out my problem.  At the time, we were in the process of developing our web to phone technology, we built to help sort through the mess (starting with airlines, of course).  

2. What, in your opinion, is changing in the relationship between consumers and corporations?

I think consumers are starting to demand much more in terms of service from corporations they do business with.  You have a huge number of users who have gotten used to the instant gratification — getting things they want instantaneously, with a click of a mouse.  Compared to this, wading trough a phone tree for several minutes before being placed on hold to talk to someone seems like an eternity.  People want things done quickly and easily — and they know when they need to talk to someone vs. doing it themselves.  Companies who aren’t able to deliver a quality customer experience will frustrate their customers and cause them to switch.
3. What is the lesson learned from the outsourcing experiments from the past 4/5 years?

I don’t have much to say about outsourcing, as it’s not something that I’ve been following closely.  What I can say is that it’s seen as a cost-cutting measure, but you do see some backlash as many consumers view it as a degradation in service, which I would say is similar to some of the reaction we hear from our users in response to poorly implemented phone trees.

4. What’s gone wrong with the phone tree- it was supposed to be our saviour?

Many companies use the phone tree more as a way of deflecting calls rather than as a way to provide better service for their customers.  The user experience is often very poorly implemented, and there is no standard way to jump out of the process if you get lost or if your problem doesn’t fit in with the choices presented.  Another big issue is just the complexity of the organization makes it very hard for a user to find what they’re seeking.  Having to listen to 7-9 menu items before deciding what to do is just a slow and tedious process.
5. Haven’t systems improved with the advent of voice recognition technology?

I think the jury is still out on voice recognition technology.  We’ve received feedback from our users thanking us for helping them navigate phone trees that they simply couldn’t navigate themselves because they can’t get the system to recognize what they are saying — this seems to be a pretty common complaint from people who have accents or speech impediments.
6. Is this problem limited to the US, or do you also find it in Europe?

No, definitely not.  We’ve gotten press coverage and lots of correspondence from all over Europe, Latin America, and Asia asking us when we are going to launch overseas.  We definitely seem to have touched a nerve with people, and this issue is clearly not limited to just the US.

7. Won’t companies hate you because you are adding to their cost structure?

We haven’t had too much of a problem with that as of yet.  We’ve actually had several companies contact us asking us to put their number on their list, and others asking us to help provide more options so that we send users to the correct department.  So, surprisingly, the feedback from companies hasn’t been negative at all.

8. Shouldn’t consumers just get the information they need from the internet?

Personally, I try to get as much done on my own as I can before I pick up the phone.  I’ll scour the company’s website trying to find a solution before I’ll call up customer service.  However, while a lot of customer solutions have moved online, there are always situations where you need to talk to someone to sort things out — hopefully nophonetrees will come in handy for those stuck in these types of situations.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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