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Calling a Product Hotline? You Have Time to Read This : Consumers: Long waits are common. Experts say the experience plays a big role in brand loyalty.


Callers to Microsoft are greeted with a recorded message that provides a numbing list of options to choose from. (A fax listing the options is five pages long.) Fortunately, help for the new Windows 95 is the first choice, so customers don't have to wade through too much voice mail before reaching a person.


At some companies, customer service departments appear to consist of little more than a voice messaging system. Toy Biz, maker of the Spiderman action figures, has a recording asking callers to leave their names, phone numbers and addresses. Four days after doing so, this reporter's call hadn't been returned.

"A lot of companies measure effectiveness through a manager's eyes instead of a customer's eyes," said Jill Griffin, president of the Marketing Resource Center in Austin, Texas. She said corporations tend to consider their hotlines effective if the phone is answered. Customers, on the other hand, aren't satisfied until they talk to a human being, she said.

Busy signals and other delays affect how customers view a company. The Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals found in a 1992 study that customer satisfaction plummets when a customer is required to make more than one call.

A survey of computer owners showed that 70% of people who got help after one call were pleased with the service. Of the people who made more than one call, only 30% were satisfied.

At some companies, an effort to avoid delay actually creates a bigger one. After five minutes on hold, a recorded message from kitchen appliance maker Cuisinart instructed this reporter to leave a name and phone number before being automatically disconnected. A Cuisinart representative called back on the next business day and left the company's toll-free number on my answering machine.

The cycle begins--again.

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