What is going on?

I had a problem on a web page the other day. I was trying to make a gift to a charity and the page didn’t work. You had to select an amount to give and then a button should appear but it was blank and didn’t do anything. Looking into the console and there was the usual nonsense error. It’s not my job to debug other people’s web sites but I took some of the time I shouldn’t have to had taken to report the problem to them.

I know what it’s like when someone asks SmartSurvey for help with “X is broken”. You always come back and ask, “what page”, “what browser” and “print screen any errors you are seeing”. That’s fair. To recreate these problems we need some details. Knowing this, I added the relevant data into the contact page, that I was using Chrome and that there were errors in the console. I had tried another page which did work and I also mentioned that.

I hadn’t actually copied in the error I saw, expecting that the site would look at the page, hopefully find it obviously broken but if not, they could come back directly to me and ask for more details, “can you recreate it?”. They can ask and maybe I’ll say yes and help them do their job.


This is what I got back:

I think it would be helpful if we got our operations team to investigate further as they will be able to investigate what issues are occurring. Before we do this, please do try the following and then if issues persist, please send answers to the final two questions:

  1. Making sure you are on website
  2. Clearing your cache and cookies
  3. Re-stalling the app (if using this) then
  4. Logging in

Where shall we start?

  1. If you read what I wrote, you would know I was on the website
  2. NO NO NO. I am logged into about 100 websites and I do not want the pain of relogging into everything
  3. What app? I said I was using Chrome
  4. Logging in? I had to be logged in to use that page I was on.

This is troubling for a number of reasons. Firstly, it sounds like either the person who sent this doesn’t really know anything about what I am talking about, in which case they shouldn’t be answering technical calls, or maybe they didn’t read what I wrote and this is an automatic response which would be disappointing and very rude. I can now 1) Forget about the whole thing and leave them without the gift I was trying to give them or 2) Spend even more of my time writing back to them.

Also, number 2 SHOULD NEVER be recommended to anyone. On what planet does your app drop enough crap that a simple logout/login or even a ctrl-F5 isn’t enough to fix it?

Maybe, there was a bug, maybe the app is ancient and you did something stupid and you know that clearing the cache will fix it in which case you need to give very specific instructions (you could open the dev tools, delete all cookies for example) but also you need to realise that you have really inconvenienced someone. It would be the same as telling someone they have to walk around the block to get into your shop because the door is stuck and you don’t really know why but if you go in the back door, you can enter the shop.

It then suggests after trying these suggestions that you answer the questions for the “operations team”:

  1. What device are you using?
  2. What browser/search engine do you use?

OK, 1 seems reasonable since I might be using Chrome on Android or something but 2) “What…search engine do you use”? Where does the search engine come into anything?

It sounds like maybe a generic set of questions but how poor. And we see this everywhere.

It seems more and more often that companies can’t do the basics. I asked to cancel a membership at a gym and they insisted I had to phone up the month before it expired (for some reason). The number of times something isn’t delivered or insurance is renewed when I asked for it not to. Don’t even get me started on phone queues for customer services. Imagine saying to someone going into your shop, “sorry, there are 10 customers before, you will need to wait for a surprisingly long time but if you want to, you could shop online instead or perhaps try another shop. You could also come back later but it might not be any quicker.”

Whats going on?

I think there are two underlying problems, not just across Customer Service but across most departments. It’s just that we interact with Customer Services more than other departments.

  1. People are just not bothered about their job
  2. The people who should be managing these things are not clever enough to improve them

Bad Employees

This is a sad reality. People are not that loyal to jobs, for many it is just income. Many would drop a job at a moment’s notice to earn £1000 more per year in another job. No real care about which business is better to work for, what their long-term goals are, what it looks like on a CV when you have had 10 jobs by the age of 25. Because of this, there is no reason to care about doing your job well.

I know people say that some people are just not paid enough but I have worked with teenagers who have enough care to think, “I wonder if we could do this to make things better”. The basics are just politeness, communication skills and understanding the problem domain. But if you have an extra amount of care, you invent your own systems to help. Someone I know uses a notepad because it’s quicker and easier than a laptop (she calls it her laptop) but you know what? She realises that it makes her job easier when people call because she can immediately turn to the relevant list and sort the issue out. Any system, anything to do your job easier, whether HR, marketing or Development.

Bad Managers

OK, but some people are always going to be disinterested. This is where Management comes in. I think a lot of people just think Management is more money and more seniority but Management is about Managing. Managing isn’t really many variables: Measuring performance across your team; dealing with systemic issues which reduce performance; dealing with personal issues that reduce performance.

Extra points for spotting things that are not obviously bad but are eating time/money.

My sister once had to call her Utility Provider I think over 10 times to try and change her address on her bills. The 2nd person who was called to be told, “my address is still wrong” might have thought that things take time to filter through (I never really understood that. 24 hours tops but sometimes they say 4 weeks!) but at some point, someone must realise that none of the previous calls have achieved the required results and therefore, a Manager should have been immediately involved. Why? It is likely there is a serious system issue assuming that multiple employees were not all just not doing the job and if it is a systemic issue then it is likely to be costing an enormous amount in overheads to pay all these staff to deal with 1000s of customers who might also have the same problem. On the other hand, they might indeed need to check that the training is correct, maybe the training forgot to tell people to press the Confirm button or something.

Where does it leave us?

We have seen some very large companies either becoming bankrupt or sometimes bought for a peppercorn because they are struggling to make money. As soon as profit margins become tight, everything is harder. Risks are riskier; People get pissed off that they can’t have a new chair and they leave; your customer services budget balloons with all the associated HR overhead with being 5000 employees instead of 2500.

Of course, we have looked at Customer Services a lot, probably because they are a large part of a business, but the same is true of all departments. If “Production” is dysfunctional then you cannot output enough which pushes prices up and creates difficult competition. If your HR is dysfunctional then you might not have great onboarding, you might not target the right sort of people etc. And all of this is down to? The CEO of the business. Ultimately, the CEO should know about everything. If Customer Services (or HR/Production etc) are not working, they need to already know. If people are waiting on the phone for too long (a 2 minute recorded message anyone?), if things are sticky: THe CEO needs to know, otherwise how can they run the company?

It’s one of the reasons I like the Undercover Boss series where a CEO finds out what actually happens in their shops or factories as opposed to what they are told is happening. Of course, they shouldn’t need to hide. If something is broken, a Director shouldn’t be able to hide it. A CEO should question everything and have enough general understanding to spot problems whether the departments notice or not.

But whatever you do, don’t ask users to clear their cache.