What Do Customer Service and the Kentucky Derby Have in Common?
Billed as the fastest two minutes in sports, the Kentucky Derby is as much a social event as it is a horse race. It is among the most-watched sporting events of every year, often trailing only the Super Bowl. And that does not count the 150- to 170-thousand or so spectators who shoulder into Churchill Downs for the culmination of a week-long cultural festival highlighted by ostentatious ladies’ hats, mint juleps, and a 40-pound garland of roses that is awarded to the winner. Oh, the winner also receives a 14-carat gold trophy and $1.8 million in prize money, but “run for the roses” is more befitting of the sport of kings than, say, ‘chase for the gold’ or ‘drive for the dollars.’
So why does this matter? Because when something is labeled as the ‘fastest two minutes’ of anything, we ponder things like what would qualify as the slowest two minutes of something? A solid contender for this dubious title is the time spent on hold after contacting customer service. It can be the type of experience that causes customers to run for the exits, especially when being on hold seems designed to make consumers even madder. When your customers have enough time to make a Hot Brown (that’s a sandwich), the odds of satisfaction take a tumble.
Some of you are asking, “who uses the phone anymore?” As it turns out, quite a few consumers do, especially when communicating with small businesses. There is no question that people go online to research and compare, and some complete their transactions in a digital manner. But they prefer to interact with people than with machines, especially for service issues. That is one of the reasons why chat is such a popular communications channel is the response time.
By chat, we mean a live agent, not a bot with a smiley face that offers vague answers that spawn more questions and threaten to make waiting on hold seem fun. Okay, probably not fun. But since you have some time, make good use of it. Like item #6 on that list, which brings us back to the sandwich that you have not yet looked up. No problem; this is why we are in the business of customer care.
The Hot Brown was invented in a Louisville hotel nearly 100 years ago as a classier alternative to ham and eggs. It takes a little effort to build, but you’re on hold as it is. Back in the day, the Brown Hotel was the place to be for the city’s glitterati, and the sandwich became renowned as a late-night snack. To say it is just a sandwich undersells it just a bit; it’s like saying Secretariat was just a racehorse. Besides, it has bacon, and if that’s not enough to pique your interest, then we have to question some of your life choices.
Presumably, in the 20 minutes or so that the dish is in the oven, your on-hold adventure ended, the issue was resolved, and you can enjoy the fruits…well, more like the turkey, romas, and Mornay sauce of your labors. And the bacon. We did mention this has bacon, right? This isn’t eating; it’s dining, and you’re not only dining, you are indulging in a cultural celebration that is reflected in establishments across the city, many of which put their unique riff on this Prohibition-era culinary creation.
If that doesn’t put the mint in your julep, the web is full of ideas for how to manage the time spent on hold, which should be a call to action for service-based entities everywhere. Two minutes can pass in a flash or be excruciatingly long, depending on one’s perspective. One of our clients has a metric that calls for service agents to conclude phone calls within 260 seconds. That’s four minutes and 20 seconds. Or two Kentucky Derbies.
Institutions are built on traditions. They are what make a mile-and-a-quarter horse race into the longest continually running sports event in America. Weather has never stopped the race; it hasn’t even postponed it. Likewise, high-touch customer service is built on a tradition of doing the routine things routinely, and agents treating the interaction of the moment as the single most important thing that they will do all day.