This Home Security Company Turned Phone Tree Hell Into a Cool Marketing Video

Hate being on hold? Everybody does

If you're like most people, you already lament the fact that life is too short. So here's a fact that's really going to bother you: Each year, Americans spend a total of 13 hours on hold during customer-service calls. Over an average life span, that translates to 43 days—yes, six weeks waiting to speak to a representative.

It's a pretty dismal statistic, but it's also the idea behind a new online video campaign from Protection 1. The home security company has staked its reputation on customer service—specifically, the promise that customers will get a live representative within two rings. So a small video team took to the streets with a cellphone and a simple exercise for passersby: Call our competition, and try to get a live rep. Then call us.

"At the end of the day, security systems are a commodity," CMO Jamie Haenggi told Adweek. "We're not in a sexy business, so it's all about interacting with customers—and nobody likes waiting on hold."

That's an understatement. Actually, callers to the average customer-service line these days are lucky to just get put on hold. Most of the time, calls wind up in a phone tree, those endless mazes that require you to press 1 for this and 3 for that. An increasing number of companies are also using Interactive Voice Response Systems, or IVRs, human-sounding bots that are basically just phone trees that talk to you.

There's ample evidence that customers detest this kind of setup. A 2011 Consumer Reports survey found that 71 percent of Americans are "tremendously annoyed" about not being able to reach a human representative on the phone, and 67 percent simply hung up before speaking to anyone. In a 2013 study by TalkTo, 86 percent of consumers reported being put on hold every time they call a customer-service line.

And this is why Protection 1's video—called "What do you hate waiting for?"—is so familiar: We've all been there. When participants call up Protection 1's competitors, they're immediately routed through automated attendants who apologize for unusually high call volumes, ask the callers to keep pressing numbers and advertise various packages—all while reminding them how valued they are as customers.

"I just want them to tell me which button to push to get a real person," bemoaned one participant.

Fortunately for the brand behind this little exercise, Protection 1's reps really did pick up within two rings—and Haenggi insists the call center was not warned in advance about the field experiment.

Protection 1's video is actually one in a series of four that asks people on the street to talk about things like how many hours a year they spend waiting and what sort of things are and aren't worth waiting for. The online campaign, which uses the hashtag #GetReal (as in, get a real live representative), has thus far generated 80 million impressions for the brand and resulted in a 16 percent lift in name recognition.

In other words, getting stuck in phone tree hell seems to be a shared cultural agony.



But there's a larger question here: If brands know that consumers dislike automated phone trees as much as they do, why do they still use them? The answer, in a word, is money. "It's a considerable investment to train your employees," Haenggi said, explaining that Protection 1 cross-trained all of its reps so that each one could handle any given customer-service issue, thereby eliminating the need for specialized reps and, in the process, saving labor costs.

"There was a time when you used to dial a number and talk to a real person on the phone," Haenggi said. "We [want to] bring that back. When you watch the video, there's literally a surprise on their face when they hear a live person."