Give Me Human uses robot callers to shame organisations over how long consumers spend on hold

- July 2, 2015 3 MIN READ

Waiting on hold after calling a customer service centre has long been a part of everyday life, but Sydney-based startup Give Me Human doesn’t think it has to be. At the very least, it believes consumers shouldn’t have to wait so long.

As Nic Lowe, founder of Give Me Human, sees it, more people have access to phones than ever before. While our smartphones are most often used to browse the internet, he believes it’s “crazy to think that as an organisation you can be less accessible by phone because you’ve got the web.”

Lowe came up with the idea for Give Me Human, a startup which tracks hold times at different organisations, while volunteering at The Big Issue, a magazine sold by and for homeless and disadvantaged people. He was looking to help a homeless man call a Government service and, after waiting on hold for 50 minutes, was asked if he could call back in an hour.

Give Me Human uses cloud robots, which can get past interactive voice response systems (that is, ‘Press 1 for x’ systems), to call different organisations and track how long it takes before a caller gets to speak to a person rather than a robot.

Lowe hopes that organisations will use Give Me Human’s data to improve their service: with the hold line now such an ingrained part of the customer service experience, many of us have forgotten just how damaging it can be to a business. The issue recently made headlines after a report found that Centrelink callers had an average waiting time of 17 minutes, and that 30 percent of callers hung up the phone after being put on hold.

“We’re basically trying to be the compete.com for phone systems. There’s a lot of social and web analytics companies around, but we’re taking that offline into the real world and into the real customer experience of how long it takes to get a human on the phone,” Lowe said.

After coming up with the idea around seven or eight months ago, Lowe began looking at actual applications for the product three months ago.

“I started off from the social justice perspective, because I had these cohorts of people who were trying to help these poor guys that have got no money, and they get stuck on hold to the government departments who are meant to be helping them, for 50 minutes, which is just wrong,” Lowe said.

To test the service, Lowe called over 40 local councils around Sydney. Kogarah and Burwood were among the best, while Leichhardt and Waverley were two of the worst.

Of course, there’s also a huge market for Give Me Human in service businesses, call centres in particular.

“Internally, your call centre may tell you XYZ, but you’re not going to be able to get your competitor’s call centre metrics. Give Me Human gives you a standard platform where you compare, using the same basis, different call centres,” Lowe said.

Give Me Human can run continuous monitoring or one-off campaigns for clients who want to benchmark their performance against that of their competitors. All call centres have a policy in place which states their goal for answering calls, but it can be difficult to get the execution on track and see how others are doing.

Lowe believes Give Me Human’s main competitors are call centre consultants who charge high prices and “love finding problems where there is a really obvious one.”

“What we’re trying to do is make it really simple and say, there’s only one metric you need to know and that’s how long does it take to get a human? The rest of it is a function of how long does it take to get a human. We know that if you’re on hold for a certain amount of time, you’re going to drop off and, really, what determines your satisfaction is how long it takes you to get a human,” he said.

Though it hasn’t yet “switched on the open to the world button,” Lowe said the startup has been approached by a number of potential clients, and has already run a campaign for an investor who wanted to see how his company ranked.

Lowe has self funded the development of Give Me Human thus far, working with American intern Max out of Sydney’s iCentral coworking space. Rather than seeking investment, over the next few months Lowe wants to “annoy as many people as possible” by both exposing organisations and finding the best performers. The startup will also offer free plans to journalists and consumer advocates.

Lowe also hopes to partner with a peak consumer advocacy body to create a public database.