Is it the lower ‘customer cost’ over digital service channels that shows lack of good customer experience by brands?

As a Customer Experience professional, I am extremely sensitive to Customer Service failings. Had a few in the last weeks and decided to write about them.

Working in the Customer Experience industry, I see the desire to push toward Digital service – either as email, or via Social Media. From a Customer perspective, these channels are low-cost. By this, I mean that it does not cost R1,20 per minute to send an email, or send a Tweet.

I have experienced lackluster support over email and Twitter that tells me that brands want Customers to call in to the Call Centre. That’s not always any better from a service perspective either. Here are a few support experiences I’ve had over the last few days:

Firstly, I struggled with something at F Bank. Their iPad app keeps crashing when I look at my credit card statements, and they have not reacted to my comments on the Apple App store alerting them. Last week, I recorded a video and tweeted their social media account. The response was a ridiculous number of hours later, and directed me to call their App team. Honestly, I expected them to own the issue and direct it internally, not make it my problem.

Secondly, I use V Cellular as my cellular provider. I am also an ex-employee and know a little about how their systems and processes work. I find their website functionality does not cater for many of my ‘advanced’ needs. As an example, I cannot get call sponsor configuration working, or I cannot pay my contract account online to benefit from credit card reward program benefits. There is still a big issue with the incorrect balances being shown. When I call in, I am asked the ‘idiot’ questions – despite having a profile as technical and knowledgeable. This is not understood. For a few months, we have had issues with the OneNet service and have sent multiple emails (these have been mostly ignored) and called into the Call Centre, getting transferred between different areas (I counted 6 transfers on a single call) while nobody can figure things out. The free cost of calling Support does not compensate for the high levels of frustration that I experience as a customer.

Thirdly, I called GD hosting and waited about 20 minutes for the call to be answered. While waiting, I tweeted about my experience and was offered some assistance pretty quickly a few hours later. I appreciate that GD allows the option to wait in the telephone queue without any music. They actually provide the option in the IVR “Interactive Voice Response” system to choose not to have any music. While waiting the 20 minutes, this is actually very useful, when trying to concentrate on something else. After reaching an Agent, it still took another 30 minutes or so to have the query dealt with. To be fair, the Agent was great, but I couldn’t help thinking of the total cost of support as measured by the cost-per-minute for the call, as well as the likely irritation level of other customers behind me in the queue, now waiting their own 20 minutes or more in queue for service.

Support over Digital channels still has a long way to go. The response time needs to be as immediate over email as it is over a telephonic conversation. The longer the status quo – as shown in the above examples – prevails, it sends a message out that brands want customers to call the Call Centre and not interact over their channel of choice. Multichannel, omnichannel, and digital strategies are not working effectively for some of the biggest brands in South Africa. While these brands continuously measure and analyse transaction codes and reasons from Call Centre statistics, and look for ways to reduce both the frequency and cost to serve, the efforts to do so will not pay off if there is a lack of organisational will to react with suitable digital functionality and interaction speed that allows customers (like me) to help themselves. So I question what actually drives the lack of urgent, strategic attention and timeous, operational response to customers in digital. So far, my experiences have been astonishingly lame.

Okay, enough!! What the %^&$%& is a customer journey?

I am a customer service and customer experience practitioner and I would like to know who came up with this customer journey stuff? And why is everyone in the industry talking about mapping the customer journey as if it is some new silver bullet solution that is going to solve the world’s problems? I’m fed up with this nonsense, and like it or not – I’m going to tear down this customer journey thing to shreds

I’m fed up for a totally different reason, and it put the customer journey concept right into my warpath. Here’s the story:

My sister is visiting. We went out for coffee. She recommended that we go to the Blue Crane restaurant in Brooklyn, Pretoria. You see, I have a four year old child and this place was described as having a beautiful river with ducks and everything. This would make for a great, family friendly venue. I bought this endorsement outright and without question. You see – “experts” tell us that “word of mouth recommendations” and the “power of social media” is where all future advertising dollars should be spent.

Here’s what – in approximate chronological order – transpired on the night:

  1. We arrived to a dark, shady looking, dated, untidy parking area
  2. The river ended up being a muddy, poor looking body of water with no visible, or audible ducks. Try explaining that to an intelligent, insistent four year old!!!
  3. I went to the ablution facility and ended up standing in an puddle of smelly, disgusting, unhygienic I-don’t-know-how-long-it’s-been-laying-there urine
  4. I went upstairs to the bar area. I wanted to catch the last 15 minutes of the final rugby match between England and South Africa. There were multiple screens, however the blaring sound from each of theses screens was out of sync. This gave me an instant headache
  5. Out come the menus. These are age-old laminated printed-paper menus. They looked old and I wondered about how regularly they get cleaned. I open up on page 1, and I see the following unequivocally stated:
    1. No split bills
    2. No variation on the menu
    3. Some items on the menu that were probably not in season were scratched out with some sort of black ink. Could be nail polish or something like that
  6. I hadn’t eaten for a while, so I suggested that we order some food. At this juncture, I hear the most spectacular response from the self-same individual who brought me to this place. “The food at this place is not that great!” I’m thinking… then why the TOOT bring me to this place at all? I hate it here, have a problem with EVERYTHING they’ve done so fare and no we have to relocate and I have to wait another thirty minutes or more to eat

So here’s the operative question… How is mapping a customer journey going to help me out in my situation?

Lets get real people. If you are a practitioner, or a customer experience consultant, can we get back to the basics of customer experience management – proactively designing the emotions that we want our customers to feel, and designing the company and processes? Lets not kid our customers and syphon their money on this stuff – bamboozling them and convincing them that they need to map their customer journey

Even before I became a customer experience practitioner, the very first thing that I was taught was to think like, and on behalf of a customer. Doing this requires you to adopt a customer focus that is outside-in. I’ve developed this simple model that explains it better:

  • The customer is interested in fast and relevant resolution according to his “ideal outcome” that makes him feel respected and listened to. As a point of departure, this is where many companies go wrong – they resolve issues according to the symptom, rather than the customer’s ideal outcome
  • Everything that a customer does can be described and documented as a process
  • In order to keep this process controlled, slick and fluid, we define some rules, or boundaries around it. The transactions can only occur inside of these boundaries. (Some companies call these business rules – and use them to constrict – rather than enable the customer need)
  • In order to enable the customer process, we need an enabling business process
  • In order to enable the business process, we need enabling information systems
  • Analysis, adjustment and evolution are integral parts of the initiative

Lets summarise. The customer journey is supposed to add value by getting the whole organization on the same page about what the customer goes through when doing business with your company. So, you spend 6 months on a cross-functional project to document the customer journey. Then… so what?

I officially contend that this has not provided your company with any value. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed spending the last 6 months looking in the rear mirror, documenting a flawed stream of events that differ vastly from the day-to-day individual experience of single customers who have done business with you just today!

I’ll tell you what Blue Crane Restaurant’s customer journey is. It’s this:

  1. Customer walks in
  2. Customer is seated
  3. Customer order drinks
  4. Drinks are delivered
  5. Food order is given
  6. Food is delivered
  7. Customer pays

Oh yes – any disruption to this routine hectically confuses the waiter, leading to poor service, leading to a poor tip, leading to labelling the customer.

So, unless someone with significant authority and proof on this customer journey thing explains it to me, I continue to see the customer journey as a tool that:

  • Keeps the organisation busy – and busy is not accomplishment
  • Suffers from a lack of standardisation in approach and documentation
  • Averages out the experience of customers, therefore removes individual relevance and realities
  • Does not adequately highlight points of failure and opportunities
  • Is inward focused – rather than as a customer would – outside-in focused
  • Pays little attention to detail
  • Produces no clarity on the way forward
  • Is a flavour of the month buzzword

Customer experience (101) – according to me, is about giving the customer what he wants, when he wants it, the way he wants it, at a fair price and delivering a smile to his face and causes your brand to creep into his heart. No matter how you stand on your head, colourful flipcharts and PowerPoint slides will not deliver that. Service to your customers is delivered on the cold face and the customer experience is the emotions that your customer takes away over a series of interactions with your company

If you are not doing what your customer wants, and finding a way to make the business model work, then what are you doing? Must be documenting the customer journey then!

What some customers really feel

I saw this diagram in a journal, or a whitepaper a while ago. My sincere apologies to the author as I really can’t recall who developed it – but I think it so accurately depicted the experience of customers.

I can almost stop right here.

The reaction time in delivery in so many instances is lamentable, despicable.

There’s something honourable in wanting to be the ‘best’ company in your industry in some way – best product, best service, fastest whatever.  Roger Sant of Maritz Research argued very plainly that there is often a gap between the inter-dependent Brand promise and experience. To a customer, he states, this is unacceptable because he views the company holistically. By way of an example, Roger indicates that a service failure by a no-frills, low-cost airline is more likely to be forgiven, and will matter less than an equivalent experience of a fully-fledged national airline. The lesson here is that a company should be clear and realistic about its capacity to deliver. The company also needs the same level of clarity and realism about is quality to deliver.

The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh is doing it the other way around. He states that they spend no money on marketing – instead they spend this budget to improve the customer experience, doing faster delivery to customers. This means that Zappos is not putting any brand promise out and allowing the customer experience speak for itself. This is definitely a more powerful way of going about it!

OK, OK – that’s not all that Zappos does differently. I know about the mantra “create fun with a little weirdness”, but writing about that is not the objective of this piece today. Research it out for yourself – you’ll be surprised and inspired by what else they’ve done.

Let’s get back to the picture above. When your company delivers to your customers, do you have blind spots and/or bottlenecks that hamper speedy and effective delivery to customers?

I’ve seen something incredible at a client company. They readily admit to problems and delays in customer delivery, but they were not willing to invest in infrastructure to fix the basics that would speed up this delivery. Instead, their approach has been to create different departments, each with a very senior manager and support team – to own the different aspects of the delivery chain, but within the constraints of the current infrastructure.

Fortunately for them, times are still good and money is still rolling in. This solution is extremely short-sighted and consequently, the jury is still out on the sustainability thereof. An unintended consequence of this approach has resulted in less autonomy and less empowerment for workers, and more politics overall.

I’d like to branch out on this picture above from a customer perspective and introduce the measurement of the applicability of the solution that is delivered – against the customer request. Here is an example to illustrate the importance of this.

I drive a fairly exclusive brand of motor car. At some point, I started noticing a strange knocking sound when turning the steering wheel in a certain manner. Over the last few months, I’ve constantly booked in the car to have it seen to. I’ve got no understanding of the mechanics of a motor vehicle, so I’m happy that they try whatever they have to fix it. The problem is – it has not worked and I still have the problem, AND frustratingly – each time the car goes in, they stamp the service book and capture it on their systems that the vehicle has had a full service done.

Let’s summarise the arguments (AKA fire the warning shots):

  1. From a customer perspective, some companies take unacceptably long to deliver.
  2. Delivery should have a louder voice than the brand promise.
  3. Continually review your basic infrastructure and invest to keep the basics right.
  4. Classify and resolve service failures and customer requests according to the customer’s ideal outcome. Do not into a retro-fit the solution into the parameters of current policy and process as this will inevitably lead to a solution that does not deliver according to the customer expectation.
  5. Be truthful and ethical. Do not ‘stamp the service book’ for services that did actually take place. There may be severe downstream consequences for your brand, as well as for your customers.
  6. Do not let the finance managers dictate what can, or cannot be delivered to your customers.
  7. Be innovative, more innovative, more innovative and more innovative. The best thing for innovation is innovation. Although not all innovations will be successful, the culture of innovation within the company is excellent for creating additional markets, and finding that truly spectacular next innovation.