What would you give to get out of line? Disney figured this out with its Fast Pass program a decade or so ago. It lets Disney park visitors to wait in a virtual queue — they can wander the park and do other things instead of waiting in line for a given ride. The system gives them a specific window in which to return. Disney very quickly found that in-park spending and guest satisfaction went up with Fast Pass.
So why can’t you do something similar when, say, you get put on hold calling the cable company. Now you sort of can thanks to a start up called LucyPhone. Here’s the crazy thing: Consumer choose to use this service when calling and (for the moment) it is not on the firm’s initiative. Here’s how the LucyPhone explains its service:
How LucyPhone Works
Lucy will call you first then “patch” you through to the company.
Use the company’s phone menu just as you normally would. Get put on hold? Press ** and your phone will be disconnected but Lucy will stay on the line.
Once a live agent is on the line, Lucy will call you back immediately and connect you both. Get put on hold again, just press ** again!
The New York Times (An Escape Hatch From Being Stranded on Hold, Jun 27) adds a little more detail:
LucyPhone requires cooperation from agents, who upon picking up a call hear a recorded message from LucyPhone telling them to press 1 to be connected with the awaiting customer, whose phone then rings. Call center employees are, oddly enough, accustomed to dealing only with live humans, and some hang up on the message.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but after we reach out to companies, they can go from hanging up on us 30 percent of the time to being complete LucyPhone fanatics and calling back 100 percent of the time,” said Tom Oristian. Over all, fewer than 10 percent of users are left hanging because the agent hangs up, according to LucyPhone.
The Times also explains that they troll for members on Twitter — looking for people who gripe about long hold times at banks etc. LucyPhone encourages those whom agents hang up on to resort to Twitter again to complain that a specific firm won’t deal with LucyPhone.
So this is an interesting idea. As the Times article notes, many firms offer a call back option so that customers on hold can leave a call back number instead of waiting. That, however, is at the firm’s choice. LucyPhone is totally on up to customer. Even if a given service provider doesn’t provide a call back option, the customer can still use LucyPhone.
But should firms play ball with this? Outside of getting bad mouthed on Twitter (like that wouldn’t happen to cell phone and cable companies anyway), what else is at stake? Or what is there to be gained? This latter question is probably more relevant if LucyPhone wants to make money. The Times suggest that the goal is to get firms to put a LucyPhone widget on their website. That way, customer can use LucyPhone without leaving the service provider’s website. I suspect at that point, firms would pay LucyPhone per call. It would seem that they would have to have a contingent payment. Why should, say, Comacast pay up when the customer goes immediately into service? The bigger question is whether firms would be able to use LucyPhone stats to route and prioritize calls. If this creates a set of calls that a call center can slap at the back of the line, this could be a boon for service providers.