The Hazards of Poor Service in Customer Experience

We’ve all had that moment when we’ve become so frustrated with the customer service of a company that we throw up our hands in disgust. It usually leads to us vowing to disown the company in question. Customer experience is one of, if not the most, critical components of the success or failure of an organization. This is why we’re so passionate about a fundamental part of creating a positive customer experience: Relationship Journey Mapping. We even teach an upcoming course on the subject. Relationship journey mapping can help you as a leader walk alongside your customers as they engage with your organization. It helps you fully immerse yourself into the mind of every person you’re engaging with to discover how to serve them best. With all of that being said, below is an experience I had that highlights the importance of really discovering and adjusting engagements to the needs and wants of each of your customers.

Recently I’m driving home from work, and I get a call from my brother. He’s trying to buy a new phone. To do so, he needs to be added as an authorized user to our account. He tells me the instructions from the clerk at the store are to call 6-1-1 and ask to add him as an authorized user. Sounds simple enough. I tell him I’ll call him right back and then hang up to dial our mobile service provider.

When I first call in, an automated answering system takes my call. This usually gives me a little heartburn, but this one says, “go ahead and talk to me in full sentences. How can I help you?”

“I need to add an authorized user to my account,” I reply, curious to hear what kind of mumbo-jumbo my sentence comes out in translation.

Score one for technology; the machine gets it right on the first try. At this point, I’m thinking it’s smooth sailing from here. Not so fast.

Turns out, it’s a five-minute wait because, as it seems like every automated customer service line has an issue with, they’re experiencing a “higher volume of calls at the moment.”

So I’m still driving home, hand glued to my phone that’s now attached to my ear, thinking to myself Bluetooth hands free calling would be nice right about now. On second thought, the only time I really make a call in is in my car. Otherwise, a company’s mobile app is usually a more convenient option for me. I remember a similar situation with my utilities provider where they were having, “higher than usual call volumes,” but instead of forcing me to listen to their fantastic hold music on loop, their automated system asked if I would like the next available service representative to call me back. Call me back? What a novel idea. I was impressed that the utility company would consider my time that valuable.

So, I’m still on hold, listening to my telecom’s hold music on loop. Mind you, this is a telecommunications company! I exclaim that last piece to emphasis my point; of all of the companies in my life, all of them, my telecom provider should have the easiest time setting up a system to call me back when their call volumes are high. My utility provider does it. I recently had a doctor’s office send me a text message that alerted me to when I could walk right in to my appointment instead of sitting in the waiting room. These companies can pull off this technological feat, but the company that I pay more than $100 a month to use the very phone I’m calling from can’t manage it? C’mon!

Finally, a representative named Wendy picks up the phone and says she is ready to help. I wasn’t watching the clock, but it was probably around the five-minute mark that they promised at the beginning of this process. Thank you?

She tells me that they need to identify me to get started. To do so, Wendy asks for my pin; of course I have no idea what it is, because it’s not something I often use.

“Can I just give you the last four of my social security number?” I ask.

“Umm, sure, go ahead.”

There were a couple of security questions after that. I answered them, expecting to be on my way to add-an-authorized-user land. Of course that would be way too easy.

The next step: “Mr. Stafford we need to send a code to your phone for verification. Will you read the code back to me when you get it?”

The text comes in, and I recite the numbers back.

“Hmmm,” is all I hear on the other line. After a few quiet moments, Wendy reports that the code isn’t working and asks me to read it back. I list off the same numbers as before, but no luck.

“Let me try sending another text.”

The text pops up on my phone, and we go through the same process; I read the numbers, Wendy provides an unconfident silence followed by some troubleshooting questions regarding her concern about my ability to open text messages and read numbers. At this point we’re 10-15 minutes into a call that should have taken less than five. Wendy says she needs to put me on hold to figure this out. I stop her to ask a question first.

“Wendy, this is my phone which I use to access your services. Shouldn’t you all be able to tell which phone I’m calling from and which tower the signal is bouncing off of?” I ask Wendy. “It just seems like we’re jumping through a lot of hoops to take care of something that should be pretty easy.”

Wendy apologizes and says she’ll get to the bottom of it. She comes back to the line after a few minutes and lets me know that the problem has been fixed and that she will add my brother as an authorized user. Finally, success! All this time my brother has been beeping in on the other line, I’m sure he was curious about what was taking so long.

“Mr. Stafford is there anything else we can do for you or any questions I can answer,” Wendy then offered.

For the record, Wendy was nice the entire call, but the system she was operating in was limiting her ability to provide excellent customer service.

“Wendy, none of this is about you,” I said. “You’ve been great, but I know these calls are monitored for quality assurance purposes, or something like that, and on the chance this is being recorded, I want to offer a couple of suggestions that might help.”

I’m sure Wendy was sitting on the other line rolling her eyes, but I begin to describe my two concerns: First, it shouldn’t take that long to identify me on my phone using that telecom’s network. Second, the hold music part was unnecessary. I told Wendy about my utility company calling me back and my feeling that if they can do it, my telecom definitely should be able to do that. She agreed and said she’d pass the message along. Based on her tone, I believe her. Whether that’s sincerity or good training, I can’t be sure.

The scenario about my utility provider giving me a service that I now expect from my telecom provider is what we refer to as the “Amazon Effect.” In today’s digital world, customers don’t only expect you to provide the best services in your industry or market; they expect you to match the service of other companies they utilize. So even if you aren’t directly competing against Amazon, technologically you are. We all are.

A question to consider is what are the things that your customers would expect YOU to do better than anyone else? This is critical for customer relationships, because the moment you can’t provide expected convenience, it calls your competence into question.

For me, I would expect my telecom to have a very easy system for calling in and having my problem solved. I would also expect them to be able to identify me quickly when I’m calling from my phone.

From my experience working with companies as they engineer these systems, it’s clear where the problem is; they’re designing the process for their (the company’s) needs. They’re not designing the experience (read: relationship) from the customer’s perspective. This makes a huge difference in the kind of experience you create. It forms the initial impression when that person gets off the phone. As the company, you get one of two reactions from your customer:

1 – “Mission accomplished. Easy enough.” Or…

2 – “OMG, I never want to have to deal with them again.”

Any company would have an easy time picking which of the two reactions they would prefer their customers have.

This is not just a customer service issue, it’s a relationship issue. Companies that create positive customer experiences generally have done an excellent job of mapping the journey of their customers to anticipate needs and remove pain points. Every customer goes through a journey, from the point of realizing they need services (or a product or anything else), to researching options, buying the services, onboarding as a customer, interacting at points during the relationship when they need help (think customer care), all the way to becoming an advocate (or badvocate!) on your behalf.

Future Point of View specializes in helping organizations map this journey. We give this advice across the spectrum, from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies. Our goal is to help these organizations find the perfect balance of using technology and human touch (HUMALOGY®) to engineer the best relationship possible. Not just around the point of sale, but at the emergence of need to perpetuity. These efforts can live on far beyond one customer; a positive relationship might potentially earn you business from multiple generations. How many guys are Chevy truck guys because their fathers were? Experience and relationship should never be underestimated.

If you’re ready to start mapping experiences and engineering great relationships with your customers, we have your starting point here. We also would love to see you at our next Relationship Journey Mapping Course, which is a part of our three-day Digital Marketing Series. If you create positive experiences, customers will likely thank you by offering you exactly what you want: more of their business.

About the Author

Matt Stafford is a communicator and problem solver capable of utilizing an ever-changing toolbox. Originally a television broadcaster, Matt has evolved from airwaves to electronic signals and a more digital mix of interaction. Now his focuses include crafting well-balanced relationships using the right combination of human touch and digital tools, developing organizational strategies and helping adjust cultural nuances that allow technology to flourish.