The definition of consumer hell is an endless maze of push-button choices or waiting for an eternity while listening to mind-numbing music that is interrupted by insipid messages like “for further information, check our website.” Telephone choice menus and waiting lines are so 1980s and should be eliminated or cut down to a bare minimum. Yes, you want to take care of as many problems as possible without involving human labor, but it is safe to assume that your customer HAS already inspected the website or simply does not have access to it.
One possible, more customer-friendly, system falls back on the ages-old system of having a general receptionist answer and take a message. These are immediately sent to the appropriate authority, who answers by phone or email. Or, if the customer insists, they will be transferred to the specialist but then the choice to wait is their own. This is, of course, not the only method. Whatever one chooses, it should take into account the impatience and easily irritated nature of the modern consumer: by streamlining the process and shortening the average waiting time, you will do wonders for your customer image.
Initial automatic-reply emails reassure the customer that their request has been received by your company. Customers expect their queries to be answered promptly (preferably immediately!), so assure that the email turnaround time is short.
However, quick replies ≠ thoughtless ones. After one computer-generated response, one should be able to expect a personal reply. With rare exceptions, your customers will not to write to your company unnecessarily and they will have perused the website before trying to make contact. A “stock” email crafted with several links for further information that do NOT ADDRESS the actual QUESTION gives a sloppy and uncaring impression. The underlying assumption is that the customer didn't look hard enough for the answer. Although that may be the case, it could also be that the solution is not there or is buried in an illogical place. Links are just irritating if the material requested is unavailable.
Response staff should therefore first 1) read the question carefully and 2) examine whether the answer really is available on the website. If necessary, the response-team member can send a general, but whenever possible, personalized message that they are looking into the matter to buy time with their impatient twenty-teens customer. A telephone call to them can also do wonders, sometimes looking at the website together can help to better identify the problems and save valuable staff time. Most customers will appreciate the personal service. (Staff should, however, also be trained in the fine art of politely extricating themselves from the occasional “sticky” customer who is starved for contact!)
Having waited an eternity yesterday to speak to someone at the Belastingdienst (the Dutch equivalent of the IRS), I was reminded of their motto "we can't make [doing taxes] more fun, we can make it easier!" They should start by making a major overhaul of their telephone system!