Tag Archives: satisfied customers

International Cycling Union: 3 EPIC Failures

This week the International Cycling Union stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles as a result of their investigation into his use of performance enhancing drugs.

While I am sure they feel quite good about their pursuit of “justice” allow me to point out the ways in which this is an epic, epic failure.

1. The failed their Purpose
Professional sports organizations are in the entertainment industry. They may indeed promote healthy exercise and provide competitive outlets for a small group of elite folks but at the very core of what they do they are there to entertain. Bicycle racing is a fringe sport at best, not nearly the following of the three biggies, football, baseball and basketball, not any where close to international sports like Soccer, not even approaching NASCAR in terms of popularity, mind-share, or revenue.

The biggest thing that has happened in the world of cycling in the last decade was Lance Armstrong. He put them on the map of sport. He brought them a larger audience. He added entertainment value beyond what they could have hoped.

And this is the thanks they give him.

When you fail at your purpose you risk becoming irrelevant.

2. They failed at Parity
Of course there is an argument that says we don’t want cheaters to win. That has been the argument that has fueled the pursuit of Armstrong even though he passed all the required drug tests when he was competing. So let me ask this:

What if they found out that EVERYONE in the races was taking performance enhancing drugs? Is it really cheating then?

In an article in the New York Times, Travis Tygart, chief exec of the US anti-doping agency said, there was still more to do to clean up cycling because there were “many more details of doping that are hidden, many more doping doctors, and corrupt team directors, and the omerta has not yet been fully broken.”

If that is the admitted case why aren’t they still looking at ALL the competitor’s blood samples? You can’t hide behind fairness and parity when you only go after a select few people. There are probably hundreds of competitors who will remain on the record as Tour finishers who cheated just as badly but didn’t win.

When you fail to adhere to your own trumpeted standards you risk becoming irrelevant.

3. They failed their Patrons
I may be alone in this but as a member of the viewing public I am not happily cheering for the pursuit of pushing doping out of cycling. I only got interested in it the entertainment value of the sport because of Lance’s pursuits. I don’t care that they’ve finally “proven” he used drugs.

They’ve lost me as a customer.

Not because of the scandal’s, not because of any supposed taint on fairness, but because they taken the guy who made them all the money and tossed him under the bus in some sort of holier-than-thou crusade. They’ve put the sport ahead of the consumer. They’ve tried to reconfigure their “product” right out there in the eyes of the viewing public and in my humble opinion they’ve screwed up the product as a result.

When you fail at understanding the customer you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

Simply put, for me as a customer, the world of professional cycling has become irrelevant once again. Lance brought them to my attention and I watched even after he finished competing but this latest round of circus performances has turned me off completely and I doubt they’ll get me back.

Where has you seen other businesses fall prey to these kinds of failures?

Customer Communications: Where to Start

How many time have you looked at the front page of a company web site and read something almost exactly like this:

The market leader in providing innovative solutions that transform businesses. Serving more than 67% of the fortune 500.

Drives me nuts.

Too often the starting point for customer communications start with the question, “What do we want to say?”

When you start there you suddenly find yourself with all kinds of due diligence facts, historical anecdotes, feature, functions and benefits…and so do all of your competitors. As a result everyone starts sounding very much the same.

The game changes though when you start from the position of asking, “What do we want the customer to do?”

Yes, it seems quite simple, particularly if you think the answer is, we want the customer to buy. But do you really just want them to buy? Aren’t you really MORE interested in them “succeeding”?

Typically we don’t just want customers, we want satisfied customers. So the answer to the question” what do we want them to do” is, “we want them to use our product or service to solve their problem.”

Of course in order to be able to start communicating from the perspective of solving the customers problem we have to now what the problem is and how your product or service solves it. THEN you have to let the customer know that you understand the problem.

So instead of:

  • We have
  • We are
  • We provide

You start with

  • You want
  • You need
  • You can

Try this experiment:

Take any of the communications you currently use to describe what you do and set them aside. Start the piece over with a description of the problem you solve. Next throw in a few lines about how your solution is unique in terms of what it does for the customer. You only get to talk about the problem and the unique solution, NOT your organization.

Now go look at your competitors communications and see if you don’t recognize how this approach starts to make you stand out.

When was the last time you saw a company talk more about you as a customer than they do about themselves?

 

AT&T, iPhone 5, and What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate

The stats were in a week or so ago…iPhone 5 set a bunch of records for pre-order volume.

As I mentioned here only a few short weeks prior to that my trusted iPhone 3gs went for a swim so I duly made my way to the AT&T store to leverage my upgrade discount and order my iPhone on “opening day”.

Of course, because I hadn’t called at midnight the night before or waited in line on the sidewalk I didn’t get in to order my phone until the afternoon. By that time I was told that orders being taken were expected to ship within two weeks, rather than the anticipated one week, but that I would be able to track my order status online.

The picture above is my actual order status. Notice anything? Somehow, in ten days, according to this, the is no difference in status from the moment when I was standing talking to the AT&T employee in the store to now. My order is processing.

I put this in the “failed customer self service” folder.

Order status checkers like this one are create tools to reduce call volume. The more customers who can see what is going on with their order the fewer will clog the phone lines with questions about shipping dates.

Unless of course you fail to update that status at all.

Not only does this produce more phone activity but it also sends a subtle message that either you’re hiding something or you don’t care all that much about the customer.

So why might a system like this show NO activity over ten days?

  • We’re slammed and the system is overloaded
  • We don’t know from the supplier when the items will be available
  • We now know it will take four weeks so we’re avoiding telling you
  • We didn’t create enough differentiate status levels in the system

In truth the reason doesn’t matter, the communication does. Even if “the system” posted a status that said “we’re backlogged and hope to clear the jam buy the following date” it would be more communication than “processing”. My order has been “processing” since I first said, “Hey, I’m here to order and iPhone 5.”!!

If you’re going to use a customer self service tool like a status checker you need to remember a couple key rules for success:

Rule 1: Keep the information up to date
Now to be fair the information on my status above may BE up to date. My order may not have moved at all. But you would think that it would have processed by now and just be awaiting inventory. But is does not appear to be up to date. By leaving it mostly blank the system has failed at its two primary purposes: reducing call volume and communicating status to the customer.

Rule 2: Communicate, even if it is bad news
It is far better to know that my order will be delayed than it is to keep guessing. By communicating even the bad news you communicate that you care about the customer. Trying to hide the bad news says you care more about your image than you do about your customer.

Rule 3: Think with a customer perspective
Too often these systems glitches become internal finger pointing or design arguments. If you failed to think like a customer during design think like one during the problem period. I wonder if anyone at AT&T is asking how customers feel about a dead order status?

Customer self service tools are great when they’re firing on all cylinders. When they’re not you need to react quickly, communicate effectively, and think like the customer.

What other types of “customer self service” tools have you run across and how effectively were they managed?

Bonus points if you know the movie that is referenced in the title of today’s post.  🙂

 

How Likely Are You to Recommend?

If you’ve purchased anything online lately, or even walked into  a store where you’ve had to interact with a sales person, odds are fairly high that  you’ve received the follow on questionnaire that asks:

“How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”

It has become almost startling now as my iPhone receives that email with the survey attached before I even walk out of the store. It also seems to me that I am being asked this question more and more frequently.

Now, as a marketing guy I understand that… companies are trying to calculate their Net Promoter Score.  They really just want to know how well they’re doing.

Just briefly today I want to pose some questions that are worth considering when you start to think about using Net Promoter Score as a measure of how well your organization is serving your customers.

1. Is the answer to the question of whether someone will promote you or not reflective of your overall relationship or just the most recent transaction?

I have had great experiences with front desk people at hotels, airlines folks, cell phone sales people (and just as many bad ones) and my response to the question of whether I’ll promote or not is typically based on that most recent few minutes.

That means that in order to get an accurate picture of my relationship to any of those businesses they’d need to get me to answer that question after every significant transaction and calculate an average. I can guarantee you I won’t fill out the survey every time!

As a result it is important to remember that:
Timing and frequency are crucial to get right

2. Does a customer’s positive response mean that they’ll actually promote your organization?

Obviously that differs person to person and situation by situation but it cannot be assumed that “yes I WOULD promote” equates to “yes I WILL promote”.

Rather than asking the blanket “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?” it becomes more useful to suggest where and when you might recommend: “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend who is looking to book a vacation?”

Remember:
Providing context makes it easier for the customer who wants to promote you to recognize the opportunity to promote you.

3. How can you make it easier for your customers to promote you?

Asking the blanket question gets you a philosophical response, providing context makes it easier for the customer to consider action, but you’re still asking them to engage in creative effort.

  • Why not, instead, provide customers with a couple of options: “If you’re willing to promote us would you please like our page on facebook?” or “If you had a great experience with us today would you be willing to post the following tweet: etc. etc. etc.”

Remember:
The easier you make it for someone to promote you the more likely it is that they will.

Rather than just asking folks if they’d be willing to promote your organization provide them with the ways and means to do so and you’ll find you get much more mileage out of the practice of capturing net promoter information.

When was the last time you answered positively on a “will you recommend us” survey? How quickly did you actually recommend and what means did you employ?

Poor Customer Experience…at Disneyland?!?

Hello, my name is Curtis and I am a Disneyland fanatic.

Friends call me for advice on how to best experience the parks. They get a two page email back.

I live in Colorado and I have an annual pass.

It’s just that bad.

We were just in southern California for freshman orientation at Azusa Pacific University. After a tearful good bye with our oldest son we headed over to the park for some “amusement”.

I never thought I’d say this but I walked away significantly underwhelmed by our visit.

I can remember not too long ago when you could get in for under $50. The price for visiting one park for one day is now $87. Okay, I get the fact that costs rise so, it hurts but I’ll still play along. Of course if you want to visit BOTH Disneyland AND California Adventure on the same day that will set you back $125.

So you would think you’d see the service level rise to match the price increase wouldn’t you?

Nope.

We experienced no fewer than five ride outages in one day. Mind you that’s only counting the times we were in line for a ride and it went out. Who knows how many there were when we weren’t looking.

Queue management, something Disney is known for, was sorely lacking with lines spilling out into walkways more often than not on a day that was busy but no where close to the worst we’ve seen.

Worse yet cast members in those situations seemed continually put out by the trouble of having to manage the flow of people.

Three different times we were told that a clearly displayed offer of a discount didn’t apply to our situation because of some fine print that was not readily published.

I walked away feeling like Disneyland was telling me that I was fortunate just to be able to be in their presence so I should overlook the inconveniences.

Now, you could argue it was a hot day, large crowd, a couple of less than stellar cast members working queues, etc but those would all be excuses not reasons. There is no “reason” for poor service.

You might argue that I’ll go back so there is no real pressing need to fix any of these issues. You’d probably be right, I probably will go back. But then…I’ve never talked bad about Disneyland before and I am now.

How often do we allow circumstances to move from being excuses to being “reasons” for failed service? How often do we portray to customers that we just can’t care for EVERYBODY? How bad is one negative blog post about poor customer experience?

If hot temperatures, large crowds, and less than stellar cast members are becoming the norm I won’t need an annual pass any longer. I’ll just go one or two days in the off season to get my fix and keep my fond memories of great customer experience at Disneyland in tact.

When was the last time a company failed to meet your expectations as a customer?

Three Reasons to Understand the Customer Perspective

I received an email offer the other day that was attempting to persuade me towards an upgrade of a graphics software package I’ve used off and on for a couple years.

I went to the web site and discovered there were three different versions available: Basic, Advanced, and Pro. I could click on each of them, even compare them side by side, and in the end couldn’t decide which one I wanted based on anything other than price…so I bought nothing.

The trouble was that the descriptions of the packages were all written from a sales perspective, this or that attractive feature designed to entice me to buy. But when a feature is described in technical jargon, Dyspeptic Flabberhaven Interface, it sounds impressive but confusing. WHY do I need a DFI? Who knows.

A web site I have really come to appreciate and frequently use is CNET.com. CNET reviews products like cameras and laptops and home appliances but the bit I like best are the buying guides. The CNET buying guides aren’t there to help you compare Flabberhaven capability but to solve your problem.

You want to buy a digital camera? Cool. What do you want to do with it? Kids sport photography? Portraits? Landscapes? Start a business? The buying guides use a series of question to guide you toward the right model and feature set. In short, they take the customer perspective.

In my last post I suggested that the customer experience is guided by a couple of simple questions:

  • Should I explore?
  • Should I buy?
  • Should I promote?

So much of what you find on web sites these days is designed to drive right to that second question: Should I buy? Without providing anything other than a call out of feature and function to persuade a prospective buyer.

And if that seems to work why think about the customer perspective at all?

Reason #1: It says you understand the customer
As mentioned above the CNET buying guides are a great example of how to communicate an understanding of the customer. If I am looking for technology I go there first before I go to any retailer of manufacturer site BECAUSE those guides scream out…we know you.

If you can show that you know me as a customer it helps convince me that your product will meet my need.

Reason #2: It changes the way you present information
If you understand that there are a number of people coming to your web site or contacting you via phone or email that are exploring, looking to learn more about you as a possible solution to a need, you start to present information differently.

I love using churches as examples. Think of one major reason an non-attender would decide they want to go to church. Life Crisis? Return to childhood faith? Searching for meaning? Curiosity?

Go to most church web sites however and what you’ll find…well, you’ll find a mess if you look at enough of them…but what you’ll find it a list of features and functions. “We’re a welcoming community where you’ll feel right at home.” “We’re not like your parents church.” “Church for today’s generation.”

Understanding WHY people are exploring you changes the information you present. True for churches, true for purveyors of software.

Reason #3: It sets the foundation for customer loyalty
When a vendor shows from the outset that they care enough to help me explore them and assists me in buying by displaying an understanding of my need they communicate an expertise that drives me towards loyalty from my first interaction.

If you can show that you know as much about me as a perspective customer as you do about your product you build trust from the start.

This simple list doesn’t come close to uncovering all the changes in business process and strategy that a deep understanding of the customer perspective engenders but it is a good place to start. Which leads me to today’s question:

How well does your organization, business, newsletter, understand the perspective of your customers and if you understood that perspective more intimately what would you change?

Two Crucial Components of Customer Service: The Word and The Will

When a product or service fails to meet the customer’s expectation they are in a state where they feel the “contract” has been broken.

As I mentioned last week when comparing Mike’s Camera and Bonefish Grill there are certain basic customer service actions that must take place in order to “make the situation right”. Today I want to look more closely at two components that make up the customer service response.

Compare these two examples:

Kid at Kohls

When my oldest son Nathan was about eight he went on a shopping trip to Kohls department store with his mom. Money in hand Nathan picked out the item he had come to purchase. With mom watching in the background Nate took his place in line at the cash register.

The customer in front of him in line was served and he stepped to the fore, item on the counter, money and coupons in hand. The woman at the register COMPLETELY ignored him, failing to even acknowledge his presence and began ringing up items from the customer behind Nathan in the line. As an eight year old taking his first shot at doing this on his own Nate was more than a little confused on how to proceed.  He even tried to speak up, “Excuse me but I think I was next”, and was STILL ignored.

At this point his eight year old reserves had been spent. Starting to tear up he moved to where my wife was in line at the next register over…and EVEN NOW the woman behind the register he had left did not acknowledge him…where he took care of his transaction.

Because we generally like to recognize good service when we get it we also take the time to point out where our expectations have been grossly missed. My wife wrote to the management at Kohls explaining the situation.

Kohls management responded promptly, within a few days, by:

  • Sending a letter of apology to my wife, explaining that they had discussed the situation with the specific employee.
  • Sending a separate letter of apology to Nathan for his having been treated poorly.
  • Including a $25.00 gift card for Nathan along with their apology.

 

Chaffed at Chipotles

A good friend of ours went into a Chipotles restaurant to get an outside meal for her father who was confined to the hospital struggling with the last stages of cancer. Her simple request, “I’d like a chicken burrito bowl but can you please split it into two portions. My dad is in the hospital with cancer and he can’t eat a whole burrito in one sitting so I’d like to be able to save some for later.”

After first dealing with a couple of employees whose English was insufficient to understand the request she was handed over to the manager who refused to split the portion into two, even after our friend offered to pay extra for the use of a second “bowl”. Beyond being unwilling to be helpful the manager even managed to look put out by the request.

Needless to say my wife once again wrote a letter. I love her for that.

Chipotles responded, after a week or two, with a letter to our friend that included:

Coupons for a couple of free burritos wrapped in a photocopied note that proclaimed:

“I call a do over.”
Though we strive for perfection
we don’t always get there.
Please accept these Burrito Bucks
and give us another chance.
We’ll be waiting for you…
fresh cilantro in hand,
(it’s the closest thing we have to roses.)

No recognition of the situation, no apology, not even a personal word or two.

These two examples also serve to highlight the two important components of balance. Let’s call these two components the Word and the Will.

The Word refers to the culpability and the apology that is offered. The Will refers to any material compensation that is given. If we look at this through the metaphor of a set of balance scales that have been shifted to the negative, the Word unlocks the scales to allow them to swing freely and the Will represents what we put on the scales to cause them to swing.

In the above examples the management at Kohls understood that both the Word and the Will were of equal importance. They took responsibility even making mention of the actions they had taken to make sure the situation was corrected AND THEY APOLOGIZED. Having thus unlocked the scales they added a $25.00 gift card. (Which is a HUGE sum to an eight year old.)

Chipotles on the other hand barely managed to take responsibility. The actual language they used and the format in which they chose to present their words all acted to minimize their culpability and thus rendered their minimalist apology even weaker. At that point had they even offered a month’s supply of free product the scales still would have been locked.

Too often organizations fail to realize that both the Word AND the Will are important. The truth is that in most cases just applying the Word comes across as a cheap apology while just applying the Will comes across as an attempt the buy the customer off without truly addressing the situation.

It’s funny how well this applies to personal relationships as well. Any examples come to mind?

Customer Service: Mike’s Camera vs. Bonefish Grill

Two critical reservations. Two failures to deliver. Two vastly different experiences.

In the blue corner Mike’s Camera.

This past week my son Nathan’s rugby team played in, and won, the Colorado state championship. I am more or less the official photographer for the team and because this was a night game I needed to rent a faster lens.

Mike’s Camera has typically served me well in that regard and although I am looking at trying another service for an event later this month I turned to Mike’s to help me out for the finals.

I reserved my typical Canon 70-200 f/2.8 via phone several days ahead of the event knowing that if Mike’s didn’t have it I could turn to the other service. They DID have it available so we arranged for it to be ready for pick up at their south store on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning I got a call from the rental dept at Mike’s telling me that didn’t have my lens!?!?  I immediately panicked, I needed it THAT NIGHT, too late to explore other options. Once my heart started again I discovered that they still had the lens available but that it hadn’t made it to the south store. I could get it, but I’d have to go to the north store which would mean about 2 extra hours of drive time.

So how did Mike’s handle their failure?

They apologized and took full responsibility admitting their mistake.
They provided a solution, the lens, even thought it came with a hassle.
They cut the rental price in half.
They allowed me to return it to the south store, an hour closer to my home.

In the brown corner Bonefish Grill

Let me start by saying we love Bonefish. We’ve celebrated a number of family milestones there and have always like the food and the service. That being said…

We were looking for a place for Mother’s Day dinner. Both my mom and Libby’s parents will be with us Sunday so we’ll need reservations for eight.

We went online this past Monday to get the phone number for the south Denver Bonefish and discovered that they now take reservations online. Our party size was accepted and out chosen time, 6:45, was available. Awesome.

Yesterday I got a call from Bonefish. Apparently they had taken too many reservations over the phone and that didn’t connect to their website which, by the way, shouldn’t take parties of eight but rest assured “we’re fixing that”, and the only time that had available was 2:00.

How did Bonefish handle their failure?

They provided and apology with a but, which we all know is no apology at all.
They took no responsibility.
They offered no solution or recompense. (Ok, you could argue 2:00 is a solution but no one eats dinner at 2:00 unless they’re over 98)
In short they had nothing.

So what’s the lesson?

When you fail, and we all probably will sometime, there are a couple MINIMUM requirements for salvaging the situation:

Take responsibility
Your “I’m sorry sir but the web site doesn’t work right” means less than nothing. That isn’t my responsibility, it’s yours.

Come up with a solution
You need for find a way to provide for the customer that you have just failed. Even if the best you can do is help them think through viable options. Bonefish is owned by a management company that has multiple chains. How about trying to locate one with availability?

Offer something in return
You’ve failed at a promise. You need to make it right. It doesn’t always have to be monetary but that does help.

Truth be told if I were the person at Mike’s the lens rental would have been free. They didn’t go as far as I would have but I appreciated that they took responsibility, came up with a solution, and offered something in return.

Bonefish not so much. I’m mad enough now, and get more angry with each restaurant I call trying to find last minute reservations, that I probably won’t go back there for quite some time. In fact I’m rather hoping that several of my social media savvy will re-tweet this post both to give Mike’s props and, even more importantly to me, help Bonefish feel the sting of what I can only call an abject failure of customer service.

Got any examples of either excellent saves or miserable failures in the world of customer service you’d like to share?

 

Customer Delight Revisited

It wasn’t all that long ago that business journals were all abuzz with the notion of delighting customers. “Creating real loyalty”, they said, “is all about Customer Delight.”

Fast forward to say…now…and delight has been eclipsed. You no longer want to delight customers, now you just want to make things easy for them. Customer Effort is now the thing that creates loyalty.

I’m not sure I agree…well, let’s be honest really…I don’t agree.

Most of what you read in favor of Effort over Delight cites studies that seem to indicate that customers don’t want “something free” they just want customer service to “be easy”. True, but myopic.

Allow me to suggest three truths of Customer Delight that I believe paint a much more colorful picture on a far broader canvas.

1. Delight starts with your product.
A simple truth but oft overlooked. You can delight customers with elegant design, innovative features, good cost to value ration and yes, even ease of use.

Some people refer to this as the “human factor”, creating products and services that don’t just “solve the problem” but bring a sense of happiness, well being, or balance to the user as well.

Obviously Apple is a leader in the art of human factor design. iPhone was SOOOO cool compared to other smart phones when it first hit the market. Even now the competition is more trying to out iPhone the iPhone than they are truly innovating.

2. Delight continues when you go the extra mile.
This is not as difficult as it seems. Simple ways to provide delight in this category:

  • How effective are your assembly instructions?
  • How comprehensive is your user manual?
  • What are your policies on replacement or repair?
  • How easy are they to find?

Providing information that allows customer to answer their own questions, and providing it in detail, has the capacity to delight customers. Yes, it is interesting on how closely this plays to customer effort, but in this case effort CAUSES delight.

My son is now driving my old Nissan Altima. I love that car. But early on I ran into a bit of a confusing problem with it. One morning, out of the blue, it wouldn’t start. I tried a couple times before it finally sputtered to life. Then, for weeks, no more problem.

Until it happened again. I can’t remember if it was cold, or water, or cold water…but there was nothing that made me think there should be a problem. I did a little digging and not only did I discover this was a randomly occurring issue for other Altima owner’s as well but, I ALSO discovered the secret code to fixing it!!

I kid you not you had to do something along the lines of: Turn the key on and off three times, turn it to the on position for 15 seconds, take it all the way out, put it back in and start normally. Apparently this resets something in the computer. Works every time.

What bugged me was that I had to find that out on the internet. I know it would go against Nissan’s grain to admit there might be an intermittent problem but I wish THEY would have had the information available for me.

  3. Delight is about exceeding expectations…sometimes.
There are times when customers expect you to be invisible. They do NOT want to have to get into the weeds on details. Think in terms of your cell phone bill. You’ve set up all the options as you’d like them and now you just want it to run like clockwork.

If the only time you attempt to delight customers is when you’ve failed at invisibility it feels like you’re trying to buy them off.

Find ways to anticipate your customers expectations and be waiting to meet their needs at a point that is down the road ahead of them.

Later this week I want to look at Customer Delight as a multiplier, but for now consider these truths and ask yourself where your best opportunities lay for elegant design, superlative support, and anticipatory solutions.

Where are your best opportunities for delighting customers today? Where would you like them to be tomorrow?

Customer Effort – Level 2: Customer Service

As I mentioned in my last post Customer Effort, the notion of making things easy for your customer, begins while the customer is still a prospect.

Most of what you’ll read around Customer Effort, and what I want to take a look at today, has to do specifically with customer service…whether that be via the web in a more self service approach or via a call center.

I don’t want to argue the relative merits of Customer Effort score just yet. While it is one of several measurements that can best be used in combination to make some guesses at customer loyalty it is also a risky measurement because it can refer to a specific instance in time rather than an overall experience.

It is also important to remember that customer effort is really applied differently in different industries.

Take a transactional service oriented business like banking, insurance, or utilities. In this case I want my provider to be nearly invisible. I want ANY interaction to be virtually effortless. My expectations for invisibility are quite high.

But now think about purchasing a configured item like a computer, cell phone service, or an automobile. In these instances I expect that my interactions may have a little more substance to them because my requests may start to run in a slightly more personalized vein. I still want the provider to know what I have but I may not have the same high set of expectations when it comes to them anticipating my need.

That being said I think there are several characteristics of any organization that set them up for success when it comes to customer effort.

1. They know me
When I log in to my account on your website, or provide my customer ID to your call center agent, I anticipate that I have just provided all the information you need to quickly call up everything there is to know about my interactions with you.  I should NEVER have to provide more information and I should ABSOLUTELY NEVER have to provide repeat information.

United Airlines is struggling at the moment trying to converge two web systems since their merger with Continental. When you log in to your frequent flyer account it can show you all your currently active reservations but you have to log in AGAIN to view the details of any of them. This is an epic failure.

Once you have my customer ID don’t ask me for my address, my phone number, or the model number of the product I’ve purchased from you unless you’re trying to confirm that I am who I say I am…even then it’s a dicey thing to ask.

2. Front End People are Empowered
I believe that the worst effort experience I have had in recent days came at the hands of AT&T. We were trying to combine my “business” cell phone account with the rest of my families “personal” account.

  • The rep in the store had to get a manager
  • The manager had to call a regional manager
  • The regional manager had to call a different kind of regional manager
  • Regional manager 2 sent it back to the store manager
  • …who had to call yet another type of regional manager

In all it took more than two and a half hours…and the bill still wasn’t right for the next two months.

The problem here was that the front end folks were not empowered to solve the problem. Don’t make your front end people call routers. The more times I have to be switched to another department, manager, or agent the lower you score on customer effort. Give the front end people the authority to think independently and solve the customer issue in one stop.

3. Information is persistent
This really should probably be the first one because it fuels the other two. I list it third because it is more system than process based and thus potentially the easiest to fix.

You can’t empower people to help me if they don’t know me and they can’t know me if they don’t have all the info at their fingertips. Your customers have multiple connections to you, web site, social media, call center, billing…each of those departments capturing information all the time. If you want to know me and empower people to serve me they have to have ALL that info.

How well do you know your customers? How empowered are your people when it comes to creatively serving your customers? Do they have the info they need?