My husband and I had parked our car in a hotel parking lot near the Philadelphia International Airport. When we returned on a cold rainy night, our car was dead. We went into the hotel to see if anyone had jumper cables. No luck. We asked hotel guests and the shuttle drivers if they could help. No one could. So my husband calls the 24-hour roadside assistance for Subaru which they tout as a benefit of owning a Subaru. Their assistance promises a myriad of services including “Jump-start if your battery is dead”.
It appears their customer service had also died. He opens the Subaru app on his phone which has two help options. Call the Subaru 800 number of submit an online request. He selects on-line, but it wants him to enter the last few numbers of his VIN (vehicle identification number), so he had to close the app to locate his insurance card which contains the VIN.
Next, he tries option two, the 800 number. That took him to an automated call which texted him a link to get the help process started. Only, when he clicked the link, it said it couldn’t find his profile. It then asked him to manually enter his multiple digit VIN number, which was difficult to read in a dark parking lot with heavy rain splattering the windshield.
He then uses his phone to take a picture of the VIN number and tries to enlarge it so he can enter it as requested, but the system times out and disconnects him.
Frustrated, he’s not sure what to do and I’m furious that we can’t speak to a human being to get service and find out how long it will take given it’s getting later and later. He decides to try again. That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands and do what any stranded sleuth would do. I turned to the internet.
Googling jumper cable help and dead battery roadside assistance a wealth of options pop up. I call the first number I see and immediately someone picks up.
Me: “Hi, we are in a parking lot near the airport and our car won’t start. Do you jump dead batteries?”
Him: “Yes ma’am”.
Me: “How soon can you be here?”
Him: “I’m out in King of Prussia, so 35-40 minutes. Please text me the address. I’ll pull up to the door in a silver van. My name is Jacquees.”
Amazed, I call my husband, who is still in the parking lot trying to contact Subaru and tell him to hang up. I have it covered. Sure enough, true to his word. Jacquees shows up about 40 minutes later. Problem solved. We drove home.
I love technology and, in most cases, I find it time saving and valuable. But the companies that develop ‘help’ technology can learn a lot from Jacquees about the importance of customer communication and interaction.
From automated responses, completing orders, reminding us of appointments and even depositing money into our accounts, it sometimes seems like human communication is becoming extinct. Sitting on hold, being directed to navigate a series of automated prompts, being misrouted, getting disconnected and not being able to reach a human is infuriating. After all, what good is a help line if it doesn’t help?
According to a 2022 survey conducted by OnePoll, a market research firm, a new survey of 2000 Americans reveals that 24 percent would opt to shave their head rather than wait online to speak to customer service. Respondents said they would also rather do their taxes or go to the dentist. And twenty-two percent said they’d rather spend a night in jail over dealing with a customer support representative.
The survey went on to say the average person spends 42 minutes on hold each time they contact customer service, which they have to do approximately three times per issue. When a human being finally does respond, OnePoll found their issue is resolved in less than half the time.
Simonetta Turek, General Manager of Customer Experience Products for Twilio, a digital customer engagement firm says, “customers expect a different experience from businesses—one that is personalized from the very first interaction, from the point of sale all the way to when they reach out for assistance.”
I think that’s what Subaru and other companies miss. While they are taking advantage of available technology to save money and provide functional solutions, customers like me want responsiveness and a personal touch we can’t get from a robot or automated system. That’s why in today’s programmable environment, Jacquees seemed so unique.
When he arrived, he handed me his business card which says personal driver, lock outs, dead batteries, flat tires and gas fill up 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I also admire how hard he must work at all hours regardless of weather.
As more machines are brought on to help us humans, I think companies can take a lesson from Jacquees. By learning what we value in personal service, they may be able to program robots to be more responsive, friendlier and create easier access routes to speak to real people. If they can do that, frustrated customers will feel seen and heard.
That will make our robots more appreciated and easier to communicate with like Jacquees.