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Idea Validation: Is this an annoying problem that is worth solving?


#1

Along with your response if you can mention city/country you are reporting from that would be great.

Short version:
Once in a while do you have to call customer care number of insurance company, bank, Internet Service Provider, Cellular operator etc.? Do you have to go through annoying IVR and being on hold forever until you can talk to a real person? Does this feel like waste of your time?

Regular version:
Most people have to interact with at least one company in each of the following categories.

  • Internet Service Provider (ISP)
  • Cellular Network Provider
  • Cable TV operator
  • Bank
  • Insurance company

These interactions include information/clarification or service requests of some kind. E.g. billing inquiry, change of plan/scheme, renewals. Every time I need to talk to these providers I go through this cycle:

  1. Find customer support number of the company on google
  2. Retrieve the identification information (account/policy/registration number) from their website/ TV/ Checkbook/Insurance policy
  3. Call up the customer support and hoop through various menu of annoying IVR, optionally key in the identification somewhere in there.
  4. Hold the line, “your call is important to us …blah blah blah…”
  5. Talk to a real person (customer service rep) who probably asks you the same identification again. Wait while he pulls up your account.
  6. You explain what you are calling about. He puts you on hold while he digs for relevant details.
  7. At this point, if you are lucky your query gets answered. Otherwise some more rounds of hold/unhold follows until he/she finally finds what you want.

All of this is really inefficient, boring and costs me anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes of my life. For companies that customer service time is cost, literally. Do you think this is a problem worth solving?


#2

This problem is definitely worth solving but do you really have better solution?
I thought about it several times too but I don’t know if it can be solved with existing technologies.


#3

I agree with @noonbeast.

Only way I can see solving is with a human Concierge.

You’d need to get sorts of personal Info, passwords, etc.

But. Would b super easy to test with no up front cost. Start it the way wpcurve.com did.

I do t think I would use it. I feel like it would take more time to explain problems to someone. I do other tasks while on hold. But I am 1 datapoint


#4

Like the others said: there’s a difference between a problem and a problem that allows for a business that solve it to exist.

What you describe is certainly a problem.

Can you build a profitable business solving it?

I don’t see how.

Let’s say my Comcast is out and I have to reach them to fix it.

How would someone that is not me be even capable of resolving that issue? The first thing they’ll ask is to turn my modem off and on again, ask questions about my setup etc. You can’t outsource it to an assistant in Phillipines.

And even if you could, how much would I have to pay for such service for you to be profitable and how will you even make me aware that such service exists?

The unit economics don’t work here. The cost to acquire a customer would be massive and the profit from a single customer tiny.


#5

@MoonBeast @Clay_Nichols @kjk - Thanks for your inputs.

Well the idea is not to offload the entire process to another person. Aim is to eliminate steps 1 to 6 (from the problem statement above) which would reduce annoyance and time for both sides.

What if you have an app (yes another app, let’s call it TimeSaver) that takes in your service request in under 30 seconds and schedules a callback (from your service provider company) at a time slot of your choice with all relevant context available to the CS rep even before the call starts. This will eliminate finding customer support numbers, finding account identifiers, navigate through IVR, being on hold, identifying yourself, communicating your problem etc. Would that be valuable?


#6

There are still 2 big problems here:

  1. It can’t be done.

I don’t see how you can make Comcast call me at a time of my choosing and already have the information I gave you (in wildly optimistic 30 seconds).

In my experience, support manages to loose the context even when transferring me internally so the idea that you can get support of any random company do the right thing doesn’t strike me as realistic.

Not to mention that in order to start the process you usually need to identify yourself using private/secret information, which I’m not too happy to share with a random app/service on the internet.

  1. Unit economics still don’t work.

What LTV (Customer Lifetime Value) do you predict? $5 per call? $10 per call? How many calls in a year?

How much do you predict you would have to spend to acquire a single customer?

How will you promote/advertise it?

This is the worst case scenario for advertising/promoting a product: your costumer is everyone. You can’t target ads for people and no-one is searching for this kind of service so there’s no much SEO opprotunities.

Your advertising would be the most expensive type (wrt. to cost of actual customer acquisition) i.e. untargeted banner ads.


#7

@kjk you are asking right questions. I wouldn’t actually start with everyone as my customer and splurge on random advertising. Here is how I would approach it:

Go talk to small forward looking ISPs or cable tv operator in the country. Sell them this idea with clear benefits for them:

  • Couple of minutes of CS rep time saved per incoming call as he/she is not wasting time taking in identifiers on the phone and pulling up the case (doing A for Apple and C for Chicago on the phone is slow)
  • Callback within a time slot makes efficient use of available CS rep time. Because they don’t need to hire CS reps for surge traffic on Saturday mornings.
  • Slick support experience for your customers.

If I could tip a few of these companies to try us then only reach their customers to download our app for better support. No expensive marketing campaign. Besides buy-in from these companies is definitely needed to actually arrange the callback.


#8

I do not believe nobody at call centers never heard about callbacks. There must be an economic reason they do not do them.

I only barely familiar with how call centers work, but I believe they do not schedule callbacks now because it would increase the call center costs.

Currently the agents are working at about 100% capacity - once one call ends, another one from the queue begins. If a significant number of calls shift to callbacks, some agents will be idle (queue is empty) at some times. During the peak callback times (lunchtime, etc) the situation will be the opposite - there will be a shortage of agents for large number of callbacks to make.

They don’t hire extra people. They put you into a queue, and you pay with your time.


#9

That may not be the case. I’m familiar with one customer support a system, and I know that the agent may re-ask the customer information only to hide the fact that the software still loads the up-to-date information from various backend systems. Normally it takes 5-10s, but at peak time or with some networking/infra issues the loading can take 30s.

When the system is fast, the agent has all the info right from the caller phone number. They only need to authenticate the caller.

When the system is slow, the agents are masking the wasted time by asking some void questions, like confirming your account number and such (they have the account # on the screen already, that’s why it is confirm).

My point is - you’re assuming too much about call center operations, methinks.


#10

Ah, that’s new information for me. Their own internal system could be a bottleneck in this case.

Fair enough. I should definitely talk to people who manage call center operations and validate these.


#11

I think the future of these things are bots and AI … a good bot could learn the 80% of common questions and could chat you through these calls like a human could…

He who will make this universal trainable bot thing will make big $$$ … not an easy task though…


#12

I know as a customer of various big companies I find this super annoying.

I wonder how the 1% deal with this, I can’t imagine too many billionaires being stuck on hold etc. Would they have private account managers at every business they deal with? Or is there some way to just authorize here’s my assistant’s details and they’ll be the ones calling you…


#13

The latest Rocketship podcast has a thought-provoking story how the United Airlines implemented a robot answering machine, but still had a sense to add an option to forward to human operator in case a flight has crashed.

9/11, the queries for United 175 are transferred to a human who tries to comfort the caller. The story claims that a similar system for American did not have that fallback, and their robot replied, in an upbeat tone, that the flight was still “in the air”, giving a false hope to the callers (and later doubling their anguish).

This and such things aside, I agree that AI will take over call centers pretty soon. In fact, I heard that this already happens - tho I did not see any confirmation.


#14

Can’t speak for all companies, but ones I’ve worked for always had a way to give 2+ people a right to change the account. Typically it is for adults in the family, but works equally well for a VIP and their assistant.


#15

I do think it’s a problem worth solving, but I’m not sure it’s suitable for (direct) a third-party solution. Solving it requires a major change in how the various organizations handle their customer service, which is not only solved by software. It’s something the companies need to fix themselves, but of course you could sell the technical solutions that help them do this.

I think the best way to solve the “phone” problem is to eliminate the need for the phone call in the first place.

In Norway, this problem has generally been solved very well over the past two decades. More and more companies now offer support via e-mail, chat or other messaging systems, where the chat/messaging solutions already knows who you are if you’re using it wile logged in to their site/app.

Another trend is reducing the need for direct contact with customer service at all, as more and more things can be solved by the customer via online self-service solutions. Some companies are still stuck in the 1990s, but ideally you only need to call them once, to tell them you are cancelling their service and switching providers.

I do have some occational phone interactions with my corporate bank, but usually that’s when they call me in response to an e-mail or chat message I sent them.


#16

That’s what I thought too before I did a contract for a telecom.

The truth is - some clients simply prefer the phone (even tho they have to wait on the line!) and no matter how many self-serve tools you give them, they insist to call.

Maybe it will go away in a generation, along with the habit of calling anyone. But for now it is what it is.


#17

I think the is a GREAT plan. I’d love to hear how it goes.


#18

I am familiar with the call center technology. New trend is webrtc - voice / video calls integrated into website. Companies develop self-service portals.

@rfctr, I agree, the telephone service will still be alive for maybe 40 years. old people don’t like to use smartphones and internet. young people do like it.