Do your customers have to chase you?

What everyone wants to happen in our busy and complicated lives is that I have a single touch point with a business and order something/ask for something and then it should just happen right?

Now this can’t always happen. If I contact a business and complain that my internet router isn’t working, especially if I am using asynchronous communication - like email, then that company is likely to come back and ask me for more details or to run through a checklist before they a replacement. That is expected and as long as you are not making that too painful (and many times you are not!) then that is not what I want to talk about today.

Instead, I want to talk about the number of times that something doesn’t work, or work as expected, or happen in an expected time and I have to chase up that organisation. I want to suggest that the target number should be 1 but every time I have to chase you up, on average, that number increases by 1. Do I need to chase up twice on average? Or 10 times?

Example - ordering some insulation online

So I am looking for a specific product because I have used it before I want to make sure my new insulation is the same thickness. The easiest way is to order the same stuff but the previous supplier doesn’t sell it any more. I find another site that lists it but it says, “Please Contact Us”. This is likely to be a problem. Why would a site that sells online need me to contact them? Here is the sequence of events:

  • me) I contact them. I am looking for product XYZ and it says to contact you - 1
  • reply) How much and what sizes do you want?
  • me) These sizes and quantities - 2

This is not currently terrible, although it should be unecessary to have this manual intervention. All of that could have been captured in the web site. Anyway…

  • reply) Yes, we can get that for you. It will cost £300ish
  • me) That’s fine but I need delivery on a specific day when there will be people to unload it - 3
  • reply) Yes, that’s fine, I will raise an invoice that you can pay and then we can put the order through
  • me) OK, can I pay please? - 4
  • reply) There is a link on the invoice, we cannot take card details over the phone
  • me) OK, I tried that but it doesn’t work. Looks like it is the new payment card 3DS stuff that came in last week, how else can I pay? - 5
  • reply) You could try another card or do a bank transfer, the payment provider does support 3DS, maybe contact the card provider?
  • me) I did contact the card provider and they said the request was definitely made WITHOUT 3DS, which is why the payment failed. I can’t pay from my bank because I don’t have the cash. What else can I do? - 6
  • reply) There aren’t any other options.

Now note here that I have pretty much been given the supplier’s problem. Common practice and mostly infuriating. It’s not like I don’t have 50 other tasks on my todo list. I would have quit at this point but the only reason I don’t is that I can’t find this product anywhere else, otherwise their unfriendliness would have cost them £X in this year’s profit. The pain continues.

  • me) I eventually moved some cash into my current account and did a bank transfer, please can you finalise the order? - 7
  • me) Have you done this yet? - 8
  • reply) Yes it’s all done, this should have already been sent, maybe it was in your spam folder (it wasn’t!)

Then I get a text. “Your order is arriving tomorrow)

  • me) Hi, I told you before that I needed this on a certain date but the order has gone through for tomorrow, I am working and am here by myself. It needs to come in April. - 9
  • reply) Oh sorry, we will change the date for you.

Guess what, the insulation arrives the next day and I tell the driver it wasn’t supposed to be delivered but I also didn’t want to send him back with the load because I feel bad enough about climite change anyway without wasting diesel on pointless journies. I had to manually unload it alone when I should have been at work.

  • me) How on earth did you get this wrong? You caused me a massive inconvenience and a lot of physical work - 10
  • reply) We did update the date but somehow it got updated after the driver left. He was told but still came.

You get it. A score of 10 which I would probably describe as “piss poor”, but to be fair, the important point here is not that one person had a bad experience…

How should we learn from these

The painfully hackneyed statement, “We will learn lessons from this” is seemingly mostly untrue but that is what we should learn from this. This particular company might only be 5 people or it might be 50 but someone should be in charge of customer service and this type of fail should automatically be on their radar. These are the simple steps:

  1. The company has a target of 1 contact per customer
  2. Anything over, say, 3 - where it isn’t just for clarification - gets flagged automatically to the head of Customer Services (or the CEO if you want)
  3. They read every single record of this incident and ask the question, what was it that went wrong and how do we fix it?
  4. They have the power, the motivation and ability to make a change to something like their orders system, for example, to add a Delivery Date field front-and-centre so that orders can’t go through without choosing a value
  5. They watch their score average decrease over time.

Of course this doesn’t happen much. What usually happens, particularly in larger corporates is this:

  1. You hear really long messages about using the website when you try and call the company every single time you call. You can’t use the website, which is why you are calling
  2. You are forced to endure the longest multiple selection question list in the world. Instead of just asking, “Mortgages”, “Accounts” or “Anything else” you are offered, “Changing the address”, “Changing other details”, “Changing a Direct Debit”, “Moving house” etc. as if some people will only be sent calls in the call centre to change address because somehow the system is so complicated to use that they can’t be trained in more than one thing in the first week that they join!
  3. Being insulted when choosing an option to be told, “you can do this on the website…”
  4. Having a choice where nothing seems to match what you want to do but having no option other than to listen to the options again
  5. You then get asked to enter security information into the system like, “please enter your bank account number etc.”, which is fine except you usually have to repeat it all again later anyway
  6. You finally get to speak to someone who very often doesn’t quite seem like they know what they are doing. They ask you for your security information because they can’t see what you already entered into the phone system to even be allowed this far.
  7. They ask you some fair security questions like “date of birth” or “how many signatures on the account” but then ask obtuse unfair questions like, “when was the last mortgage payment”, “What is the repayment amount on your loan”. If you fail, you are discarded after being on the phone for 20 minutes and you can only reset by going into a branch or being sent a letter.
  8. You sometimes spend an hour on the phone with someone when you thought that changing an address might only take a minute
  9. I don’t have time to describe how much longer this was when dealing with HSBC UK.

It is simple to fix

It really is simple to fix. Train people, pay them a decent amount of money and you can have far fewer people doing the jobs of more people. Imagine a supervisor was the first person you talked to, how many times quicker would they be to process a request? twice, three times? How many repeat calls would you make when it doesn’t work? Probably not many because it would work because they know what they are doing.

Now imagine that you could get the contact score down from, say, 3 to 1. That means possibly a 1/3 of the workload for your customer services team. Now if you paid each of those people another 1/3 on their normal wage to make it a job that might stay in, perhaps with a call satisfaction bonus or whatever, you would still save a tonne of money and get more done.

Imagine also that these people are well-trained enough that you don’t need to go through 4 levels of “press option 1 for X”, how much less stressed will your customers be even if they do have to call back, if their call is answered within 20 seconds by a human, it isn’t as stressful.

Making it happen

Ultimately, Customer Support must have targets. Call them OKRs, KPIs or targets, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can see what works well and what doesn’t. It means testing your own systems as a secret shopper just to see what the experience is like. It is about resourcing your call centres so we don’t have to be told, “we are experiencing a high call volume, waiting times are greater than 30 minutes”. How on earth can you have a queue so long and taking so long to process that I have to wait for 30 minutes?

If you are employing a head of Customer Support, challenge them on it. Ask them about any icky customer experiences and what needs sorting. Ultimately, you need to stop blaming circumstances and act a bit more like you care about the business you are supposed to be running. If it is really that bad, make a point of calling customers back who have had bad experiences and explaining that as a management you care and are going to now do more than you would normally to ensure that the problem is sorted. That did happen once with me (HSBC of all people) but only because I complained directly to the Service Delivery Manager. I shouldn’t have had to.