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.

Three headlines on News24 that leave me baffled

Saw this today – not sure if I’m a a fool for thinking as I do…

Article headlines on News24 website:

I read the last one. Unfortunately its not the last one about the current South African president we’ll read

Through the looking glass

Before I looked at the glass, I wasn’t sure what I would see. There were different types of glass. I don’t know that this means – did this have a message for me?

I looked at the glass to see what was staring back at me. I saw a reflection of a successful, significant millionaire. The glass mirror was shattered, and it offered a glimpse of the potential of my future and achievement.

The second glass resembled a mosaic window from a nineteenth-century church. It did not reflect back to me, but I did see the brilliant colours and I could feel grateful for seeing that, for my potential and talents, and for the fresh new opportunities of the day.

The Wind, One Brilliant Day

The wind, one brilliant day, called

To my soul with an odor of jasmine

“In return for the odor of my jasmine,

I’d like all the odor of your roses”

“I have no roses; all the flowers

In my garden are dead”

“We’ll then, I’ll take the withered petals

And the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain”

The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:

“What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”

– AntonioMachado translated by Robert Bly

So I started a journey to re-discover

the odour of my roses

And the odor of my roses –  Is is jasmine? Is it olive? Is it aloe?

And I was glad. For I found that my odour was not lost

But the wind had already taken it away

Returning simply encouraging me to renew

With the mixture, the cocktail of scents of who I had recently become

My fear turned into purpose, and into the expectation

Of the call of the wind to come again

To receive the new scent of my roses, my thoughts, my life

And prepare for the bloom of yet another season

And the next call, one brilliant day

Slavery, freedom and deliverance

I find it beautiful when I get a chance to reflect, to turn the eyes inward and to introspect. It is said that we are most like God when we forgive. I also feel that we are most equal in vibration with the elements when we are in the place of consideration of what binds us together as humans.

As humans… As people, we are all the same. We have the same needs, same build and structure, same fundamental makeup. Nevertheless, we are unique and different, interesting and talented in our own way. Why then – is there negativity, poverty, selfishness, racism, abuse and problems in the world? In our country?

I enjoyed such a moment of reflection when I listened to a tape by Myles Munroe yesterday. Even if you are not a fan, or a follower, its a great listen. It is titled “The power of purpose, the power of vision.” As a black person, I have to say… It is great to hear such great words of purpose and encouragement from one of our own. Anyway – a short line that he mentioned caught my attention. It is just something that we, South Africans should share amongst each other.

Munroe spoke about a book where he unpacks slavery, freedom and deliverance. Now I know nothing about these, but it just struck a chord and is so relevant to our nation.

Many of us are trapped in slavery. Not physical, but emotional or racial or cultural or mental slavery. And when 1994 came – yes, it brought freedom. This freedom was, I believe, expected to heal divisions, to bring us together in reconciliation, to make all our problems and historical legacy go away. And for a while it did. We did well.

President Mandela saw to it. We did well as a nation politically, economically, in sport and otherwise. We started having conversations about who we are, what we did, and the kind of future we wanted. We were, for a while, a RAINBOW NATION.

Sadly, as a nation, we never finished our conversation. We never understood that the newfound freedom would not become deliverance unless we walked the full path. And over time, the understanding that freedom is never free should have been build. It never was – at least, not to the right level. Deliverance is probably the most perfect form of freedom – where we take courage and responsibility and action within our freedom to move towards the perfect national union that we commonly aspire to.

Fellow South Africans – white / black / whomever – we need deliverance. We need to engage. We need action that shows our understanding and commitment towards this democracy. And we need to do this positively and constructively.

We need to take this freedom and work hard to free ourselves from the things that still keep us in slavery and inhibit our true deliverance. It will be hard work, with much against us. And when we do it, imagine what we will become.

Let us do it – the power is in our hands! Let’s learn and grow together. Let’s acquire vision – not with our eyes, but with our hearts, hands and feet.

Poor drivers and hoboes pushing trolleys on the roads should be shot

I am impatient. I pay my taxes, I usually try to keep to the rules of the road – which includes stopping at stop signs, keeping within the speed limit, and observing the rules at traffic lights. Okay, I make mistakes, but enough about me!

Once again, I lament and lambast the lack of respect of South African road users. It used to be only the taxis, but now it’s everybody. Oh – I nearly forgot. These little Toyota Ventures here in Midrand….. Uuuuuurrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh. Equally appalling, but opposite in nature is the lack of effective policing at crucial times of the day, and at crucial areas of the road network.

Fortunately, the illegal and disrespectful driving occurs mainly at peak driving time. I also have things that irk me during non-peak time. I’ll bullet these:

  • Mistimed and non-working robots
  • Drivers who do not stop at stop signs
  • Hoboes who push stolen trolleys in the road
  • Traffic officers who spend hours manning manual speed cameras
  • Potholes in the road that are killing my alignment and tires because the holes in the road are fixed improperly long agree the appear, or re-appear. This is done instead of taking a long-term approach to resolve the deep rooted cause
  • Taxis who don’t want to stand behind 3 cars at the robot, so they drive in the yellow lane and try to jump the non-existent queue
  • Cars who drive in the yellow lane on the freeway when there is a traffic jam, or an accident that is delaying everybody
  • Taxis who overtake cars in the extreme right (usually right-turn only lane) only to turn left in front of all of the cars he’s just overtaken

I understand that the way that crime was addressed in New York City was through writing a lot of small tickets for every small transgression. If everything is punished, people’s behavior changes. I believe that South African lawmakers and enforcers are unable or unwilling to address the root causes for behavioral apathy.

I pay a lot more in taxes than some people earn in a year. I believe that I do not get back in return in the same measure for what I pay in. I don’t want to see taxis and vehicle drivers blatantly break the rules of the road. I don’t want to see hoboes pushing stolen trolleys in the road – and halfway into the road where I should be driving.

It’s time to prune the roses

Taking life lessons from the aftermath of pruning

I was recently asked by someone to think about and write my thoughts about pruning the roses. Writing, I, believe, is good for the soul and allows you to clear your mind. Glen’s brief, or instructions were quite clear…. Write down 3 points, and 3 sub-points after that to organize and present your thoughts. I’m respectfully going to disobey by keeping the topic, but writing from the heart.

I can’t get away from thinking about the branches that are cut from the rose bush. I know nothing about gardening – I am simply just not that way inclined, so I don’t know why pruning occurs, or what value it adds to life of the plants. Somebody offered to prune our 3 little wild rose plants the other day, and I can only write about what I saw.

Let me tell you what I saw. I only saw a few short sticks left on the rose stems. I only saw a pile of what was previously a part of the rose bushes. It lay there, in the way, and headed for the dustbin.

Now, how can we apply this to life in a meaningful way? Let’s see… There’s this:

  • The pruned part of the roses do not lose their identity. They remain thorny.
  • The pruned roses have potential. Each of the twigs can be planted in fertile ground and become a brand new, flourishing rose bush.
  • The pruned bushes are less valued by those who don’t understand their future potential and are sent to the dust heaps in order to get rid of them.
  • The pruned roses will decompose and become fertilizer to provide essential nutrients and become fodder to other plants.

For each of us, there comes a time when a cycle of our life is completed. It is organic, and we shed what is no longer needed for the next chapter. However, the impact, the lessons, the value of our past need not be forgotten. It still has incredible potential – to breed new life, to provide essential guidance and growth for our future.

Thought the past lessons and experiences may have had some hurt, some scars, some roughness about them, their true value is still in remaining authentic and true. If we recognize the thorns in our lives, and we don’t try to hide them or sweep them aside, they will be what helps us to improve, to do things differently, and to do things better.

Of course, there will be those who despise the value of our lives and past experiences. This will happen, and will be because they don’t understand the value as we do. Let’s acknowledge this, and move on. We are living our own lives – not theirs. We are dreaming our own dreams and heading towards our own destiny. We don’t live for them and should never allow the naysayers, and those with words of disdain to cloud our lives, our passion and our dreams.

Let’s see those times of pruning, and those off-shoots for the value that they really are, and for the value that they bring to our lives.

Random thoughts and rubbish about the Olympics

Firstly, congratulations to all the athletes for their excellent performances, effort, dedication and sacrifices. I’m sure that it must take an incredible amount of effort to do your 15,000 hours of practice and deliver a performance that lasts for two minutes, yet defines your life and legacy. Well done.

I can’t help but think of a few Olympic sized thoughts – the silly side. Let the games begin:

  • Why is the Olympic Games only held every four years? Surely country and city economies deserve to be brought to their knees more often? Also, if they are games, why does everyone take it so seriously?
  • If you win a medal in the olympics, are you the best athlete in the world at your sport? Somehow, I’m just not so clear on that. And if, like in soccer, there are age limits for participation – whats the point?
  • If you choose a name for your local sport federation, you should think about how the name will be misconstrued in the unlikely event that there is a screw up. SA’SCOCkups somehow reminds me of the cANCer moniker – unfortunate and ill-conceived media-driven agendas to discredit the policies, policies and policies of our sporting and political liberators who scheme hard to take us backward into the future.
  • Equestrian – should that not be called equestria? I live in South Africa, not in South African!!! In any way, its such an elitist sport, maybe that’s why they decided to give it a nationality. “Hey…look at me, I’m an equestrian!” (Mrs Mitt Romney mostly)
  • What value does this ribbon gymnastics nonsense add to life? If the Olympics were held in South Africa, the next logical use of the ribbons would be for distribution in our currently less disadvantaged communities – so that the children here can tie beautiful ribbons in their hair and bring some much needed color and brightness into to their lives.
  • Same too about synchronized diving and any other sport that requires winning by judges subjective decision. I say…cancel the sport, and make Michael Phelps dive like 50 meters down from a dizzy height before he swims his 800 meters to claim his gazillionth gold medal. At least I’ll watch that.
  • On the subject of subjective judging to select a winner – surely that system is flawed? To my mind, the earlier you perform, the fresher the mind of the judge, and the less lenient the scoring. Surely as the days, and as the Olympics progress, tiredness, fatigue, boredom and lenient, moderate scoring prevail, giving the earlier competitors an unfair disadvantage?
  • With all the violent crime in South Africa, it is amazing that we don’t win all the medals in clay pigeon shooting hands down!!! (I was going to say something criminal about all the gold, but maybe that would be an Olympic sized stretch)

Aaah, well! Caster has just won her silver medal, and I think that’s awesome. It gives our talented kids some inspiration and, hopefully, the encouragement to go out and do it for themselves.

I am xenophobic – there I said it!

I am in strong disagreement with the current approach to make South Africa open to immigrants from other countries to come and seek a better life – at least, in it’s current form. Now, this is probably not going to win me any friends, and may even be criticized as selfish and biting the hand that “fed” me. So be it. The current situation is just not working for me.

Having this view makes me xenophobic. That is a risk that I am prepared to take. I will live with that – and incidentally, I believe that I am at least being honest, and this opens the door to debate and to getting “help.”

South Africa has huge social challenges of its own – with and about it’s own people. I believe that South Africa does belong to all who live in it, and this is a beautiful ideal to have. I am questioning whether we need any more people to “live in it” other than those of us who were born here, or those fellow world citizens who are above the income tax threshold from the onset – as soon as they arrive here.

There is nothing wrong… No, there is everything right with seeking a better life for yourself and for your family. If that means crossing borders, then that’s what you have to do. As a productive, value adding South African, I haven’t got any say or influence over how my tax contribution is being spent. Moreover, I feel less and less value coming to me directly from municipal and governmental services, so I am revolting and blaming all sort to peripheral issues that bother me anyway – so that I can get it off my chest and feel better, and so that I can inspire and mobilize my fellow South Africans to mobilize with me and demand some changes.

You see – if I want to emigrate from South Africa to Dubai, America, Europe or Oceania – they only want you, or allow you into their country if you fulfill certain stringent requirements. These are things like… Right age, right bank balance, right work experience, ability to add value to their country from the onset. By default, this means that those of us with the ability to emigrate are qualified and able South Africans who have the ability and resources to build this country. So those of us who leave contribute to the brain drain, and are replaced – in multiples – by desperate, poor, needy and most likely – by illegal migrants who strain our resources.

All the blame should not be placed on immigrants though. Lately I have been noticing that foreigners have taken many of the “menial” jobs. By this I mean that I detect an increase in Zimbabwean and other African accents for jobs like security, waiters, car guards and teachers. Good on them – I say, good on them. To me this indicates that there are two systemic problems in South African society:

  1. South Africans are unwilling to do these jobs because they are above them, and because they are waiting on the government to deliver their unsustainable human rights and allowances. This way, we can sit at home, do nothing and feed our attitude of entitlement
  2. South Africans are unwilling to work for the wages offered because we demand a higher wage for a lower efficiency. This is indicative in some of the reports that we hear that South Africa is unable to compere with China and India and the other BRIC countries because they are above us in their approach to education, poverty, infrastructure development, innovation, low cost of labour, ease of doing business, ease of allowing foreign investment, ability to implement policy, ability to police and enforce legislation, and with their relaxed labour relations environment.

So our own sense of entitlement, laziness and backsliding in owning our country and our destiny has made good people l Ike myself xenophobic. That is not fair. Neither is it right. How many times have I seen that foreigners now run shops that were previously owned by South Africans? I think that this deserves our respect. These people have taken risks, have gone for broke and have done all that they could to carve out opportunities for themselves and earn a living. In return, instead of learning from them and emulating this, we buy from them, we enrich them, we revolt against them and we burn down their shops.

I believed that the problem lies with us, the complacent, lazy, expectant South Africans. We lack will. We lack innovation. We lack the right values. We love to depend on others. We don’t know what is the right way, or what the right things to want are – and when we don’t get our way, we trash the country, it’s infrastructure, and we blame things around us.

I think that we, as South Africans, deserve our problems!

Another gripe before I end… I know that there are political leaders, and other citizens in this country who survived the apartheid era by taking refuge in other countries, going into exile and so forth. Now that the tide has turned, they need to “pay back” and make our borders porous. STOP THIS CRAP. I don’t care that you went into exile – that is too bad, so sad. I don’t care whom you owe what. I care about what impacts me, and what affects me today – and this open border thing is simply and irritatingly standing in my way.

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!