News Flash: Customers Want to Talk to Humans


27% of customers surveyed said they’d be willing to pay to speak to a live representative

Consumers in Control Dec 07 Survey

I was shocked when I read a press release last September that announced that Wal-Mart would no longer give customers a toll-free number to call.

We’ve made a significant investment in the enhancement of our online customer “self-help” tool at to better serve our online customers,” said Amy Colella, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

Ms. Colella said the customer service ph one number was being removed because “a significant number of calls are related to order tracking,” and the improvements to the website will make tracking easier.

Hmm. I think the jury is still out on this one, but in my opinion, this was not a wise move by Wal-Mart. According to a recent survey by Consumers in Control, 27% of customers surveyed said they’d be willing to pay to speak to a live representative. Customers would actually be willing to pay to speak to a live person! The sad thing is Wal-Mart is not alone. The trend today is to make it almost impossible to find a human.

A few weeks after Wal-Mart axed its toll-free number from, Netflix bucked the trend and eliminated email-based inquiries. 

Today, Netflix prominently displays its 800 number and greets anxious customers with friendly humans.

Not only do real people answer the phones at Netflix, but friendly people answer the phones. The company relocated its call center to Oregon because it believed that people from Oregon are friendlier.

Customers are so frustrated with phone trees and interactive voice response systems, that a movement was created from the voices of millions of consumers who want to be treated with dignity when they contact an enterprise for customer support. That movement led to the creation of GetHuman.Com. It’s an amusing and really quite helpful website. In fact, I’ve used it myself. shows consumers how to reach live humans. For example, I learned from this site that in order to reach a human at American Airlines, I need to dial 800-433-7300, press 0 at each prompt, ignoring messages.

If a website exists for the sole purpose of showing consumers how to get in touch with people, what does that say about customer service today? I think it says we’re grossly out of touch with the needs of customers.

If you want to stand out and WOW customers, it’s really simple: make it easy to talk to real people.

The bottom line: Customers want to talk to real people and they want open access to you through every channel. Make yourself available to customers easily and consistently and you’ll actually surprise and delight your customers.