"Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are currently experiencing long wait times. If you'd like to speak with a representative, please stay on the line. The current hold time is between three and four hours."

That's a real message I heard when trying to handle a simple issue this week. If you've called to talk to your  cable company, an airline, or almost any major company over the past 16 months, you've probably heard something similar.

To be honest, there's almost nothing I care about enough to wait on hold for three hours. Maybe that was the point--that I'd give up and the company wouldn't have to deal with my problem at all, as minor as it was.

I'm not going to call out the specific company because, honestly, it's almost every company I've called in the past 16 months. In fairness, this company did offer the option to receive a callback "without losing your place in line." That's nice, except, who knows what I'll be doing in three to four hours.

I work from home and have four young kids. All bets are off as far as the likelihood I'll be able to drop what I'm doing to get the callback. 

At one point, the delays were understandable. The pandemic changed the way everyone did, well, everything. That includes businesses that personally interact with customers. If the company you were trying to contact had to send home most of its customer support team, it made sense that you might have to wait on hold longer.

Except, in many places, people are returning to work. We've been moving away from lockdowns, masks, and restrictions in most places in the U.S. as the vaccines have proven effective and more people are getting the shots.

If your company is still struggling to meet the demands of your customers, there might be a more fundamental problem than Covid-19. After all, there are companies that can do it well. 

Yours might be one of them. If that's the case, great job. If you are genuinely providing an incredible experience for your customers, not just hitting whatever metrics your boardroom decided that meant that things were fine, then you're an all-star. 

Because honestly, a lot of companies--especially big ones--are doing a pretty poor job of the basics. By basics, I mean answering the phone and letting me talk to a real person. And they continue to blame it on Covid-19, which I think is letting them off the hook a little too easily.

I say that because companies were bad at the basics long before the pandemic. Companies have been trying to reduce the amount of money it costs them to interact with customers for years. The truth is, the pandemic only highlighted that the way many companies provide customer service has been broken for a long time.

I get it. Forcing your customers into a dark pit of automated menu despair probably seems like a great way to save money. Talking to customers who have a problem takes time and resources. It's expensive. 

I would just suggest that if you're trying to save money by eliminating the amount of time you have to spend talking to people who are trying to give you money, you might be doing it wrong. 

Yes, sometimes getting  help online is actually a better experience for your customer. Sometimes using a chat feature on your website is more efficient. That's fine, but there are times when the thing your customer wants is to have someone pick up the phone and solve whatever problem they have. You should make that possible. And if you can't, don't blame it on the pandemic. 

Making customers wait for three hours might make them give up, but that isn't the same thing as solving their problem. It might seem like it from your end because fewer people end up telling you about their problems, but they still exist. And many of those people will eventually give up; not just on trying to call, but give up on the relationship altogether.

Your primary responsibility as a company is to keep the promise you make to your customers. Part of that promise is to address their needs in a way that doesn't involve frustration and despair.  

This really is quite simple: Stop making it hard for people to do business with you. And if you can't take care of the needs of your customers in a reasonable way, you have no business asking them for more of their money.