Category Archives: Customer experience management

Bad Process. Bad Customer Service. Common Practice

Yesterday Bank of America put me through a very unpleasant but very common experience. Their ebanking center tried to pay my BofA card account out of a long-closed checking account. The payment was not made; they didn’t notify me of the problem; then I got a late notice and fee. Happens all too often – no big deal. But when I called to find out what happened and straighten things out, I reached a contact center just out of civilization’s reach. The agent tried persuading me I couldn’t enter my online account using the credentials I’ve used before, and I never could have. She was absolutely clueless. So I demanded a supervisor, got one, identified the problem, reversed the fee, etc., etc.

BofA’s problem is endemic. Companies hire raw, poorly trained front line agents who can’t resolve issues a high percentage of the time, either leaving customers angry or having to reroute them to a supervisor – and the companies believe they’re saving money. Any rudimentary process map showing frequencies and costs would blow their “belief” right out the window. Too bad Microsoft couldn’t patent this process, because then others wouldn’t be able to repeat it. But it’s like “monkey-see, monkey-do” out there (my apologies to any monkeys reading). Microsoft and other big call center players start this practice, and before long it’s standard fare.

Where are these companies’ brains? Guess I shouldn’t ask that in a PG blog.

Why Don’t Companies Base Head Count on Meeting Customer Requirements?

 

I just read two news articles this morning of the type that make me gnash my teeth and shake my head. Both involved Fortune companies planned to cut staff by the thousands based on bad financial results. Say what? To these companies, I ask, “Why were you carrying so much excess staff you could do without?”

Most service companies carry double-digit percentage excess staff. Likewise for product companies in their back and front office settings. How do I know? Process redesign, streamlining in particular, plays a primary role in helping clients meet and exceed customer requirements. And we constantly find excess staffing over-distributing decision-making authority, leading to employee disempowerment and creating excess bureaucracy, both of which drive customers nuts. Today’s customers want to deal with well-trained, empowered employees and as few of them as possible – and on the web an increasing percentage wants to research and order commodity goods without any personal contact.

So how does head count typically change after streamlining? By a negative 15% to 20%, in our experience. But rather than streamlining, most organizations throw people at problems, and the more they add the less efficient and effective work becomes. So instead of streamlining to create a win-win for both company and customers, they create lose-lose by overstaffing.

Why do they do this?

Can Best Buy be Saved?

 

If Best Buy founder Richard Schulze and his team succeed in their planned hostile takeover (and take-private) of Best Buy, they face a daunting turnaround task. How do they fix this?

My wife’s computer crashed at a horrible time, and she needed to replace it immediately. Reflexively, she went off to Best Buy and returned with a new Dell. Before long, said computer started operating erratically, so back to Best Buy and the Goof Squad it went. And then…

1. Goofy sent it somewhere (Goof Squad central?) to be repaired

2. The repair shop took an extra day testing it after it was “ready”

3. Goofy local kept it for an extra day while he retested it

4. When my good wife picked it up, it wasn’t fixed (they claimed it was a software problem and not their responsibility); plus the microphone was no longer working

5. The thing continued running erratically

6. When the hard drive finally failed completely (see #4), we discovered ourselves we could send it back to Dell directly, despite Best Buy’s representation they provide the warranty service

Seriously, why would they want it back?

Do Sellers Need to Act in the Public Interest?

 

Putting “should” considerations aside, on the hole, do you believe acting contrary to public interest really hurts sellers? This question is really about buyers and whether they still care.

I can think of several examples that might support both “yes” and “no” answers. Looking back just a week, it doesn’t appear the Walmart job action affected much – in part because it didn’t attract enough workers. But on the flip side, Costco financially outperforms Walmart, and I believe very positive worker attitude driven by above industry scale wages and benefits has much to do with that (not that many people know that Costco pays better, we just see the positive effects while shopping). Another example that sticks in my mind is Target stupidly contributing to a PAC opposing marriage equality. The public outcry was intense and forced Target to give to gay rights causes and start carrying merchandise such as same-sex greeting cards.

The Target and Walmart examples give contradictory answers, and I’d like your observations and input.

Is Loyalty for Suckers?

A Time Magazine/Moneyland contributor posted an interesting thought last week (http://tinyurl.com/9942w2v). He titled the post, “Proof That Loyalty Is For Suckers: Best Customers Get Penalized With Higher Bills” and gave several relevant examples. What does promoting low introductory pricing for new customers say to current customers who are paying full freight? Would you do this in your business?

 

“Averaging” Customers – Necessary? Misleading? Or Both?

What’s your knee-jerk reaction to hearing someone say, “our average customer?” Mine is to wince. Describing customers according to statistical averages – age, income, net worth,  shopping trips per week, number of employees, annual revenues, number of vendors used for each purchase category and on and on – tells us something about customers. Seeing a statistical distribution across each of these parameters tells us lots more. But still not very much. We can’t understand customers without understanding their behaviors,  And you can’t average behaviors. What’s the average of leaving a restaurant angry and believing you overpaid?  Might as well average a tomato and a pork chop.

Nonetheless, we let the impracticality of assessing and responding to individual behavior dictate use of statistical averages to describe customers. Then we enhance the data by imputing behaviors to people we don’t know. Is this the best we can do?

How should we go about understanding our customers?

Book Research

Before asking leading questions (and using your answers), I should share that I’ve started a new book exploring the inherent conflict of interest between buyers and sellers and how it should influence customer-centricity and CEM. The working title is “I am Buyer. You Are Seller. That’s the Problem,” and I plan to solicit input using Linkedin, CustomerThink and my blog. If I want to quote someone directly, I’ll ask first.

First leading question: Is designing customer strategies and enabling process to suit “average” customers (customer models) consistent with customer-centricity and CEM – or should sellers be designing “process-on-demand” (term from my Linkedin colleague, Bob Starinsky) that accommodates each customer individually?

Are We Witnessing the “Half-Life” of Customer-Centricity?

The optimist in me says, “Probably not.” The realist in me suspects we are, for several reasons.

-Customers were initially grateful that many companies appeared to be searching for comity. However, buyers now appear to be moving through this phase, which I call “play nice.” Now they’re seeing through the many insincere seller efforts to look and sound more customer-centric and becoming more cynical and mistrustful of sellers than ever. Hence, an increasing percentage is no longer “playing nice.”
-Influenced not only by transacting business over the web but by not seeing the “what’s in it for them” from forming relationships with sellers, many buyers are trying to minimize contact with sellers, preferring efficiency over spending time interacting with sellers.
-The more latitude sellers give buyers to “have it their way,” the more idiosyncratic customer behavior becomes – to the point where finding common approaches to satisfying varied customer preferences is becoming very difficult. “Process-on-demand” (term coined by my colleague Bob Starinsky) is beginning to replace customer best practices.

I’ve gone into much more detail in a new white paper, titled, “After Customer-Centricity Comes…?” http://tinyurl.com/9huk63k

 

Please know in advance that I’ve “trampled over” a number of customer-centricity’s sacred cows, and even more of marketing’s. But please don’t shoot the messenger :-) .

Is Customer-Centricity Already Irrelevant?

I’m right now in the process of writing a full article on this topic, which is how I get to the bottom of perplexing questions.  The article is far from done. In fact, I want to read portions of Doc Searl’s excellent new book, “The Intention Economy,” before I wrap it. However, I can already share what I’m seeing through customer lenses.

Customer-centricity is a halfway point between win-lose favoring sellers and win-lose favoring buyers, with the latter being a place business absolutely doesn’t want to go. So in a sense, business (at least enlightened portions) created customer-centricity to stop customers from “crossing over to the dark side.” But a sizeable percentage of customers in developed economies have already pierced the customer-centric line of defense – and have crossed over. And a lot more are coming.

The consequence? Companies have to be prepared to become “customer-reactive” and deal with customers who don’t give a rat’s a** about whether or not sellers survive. Very different business model than customer-centricity.

Are others seeing the same trend lines?

Selective Customer-Centricity – Is Ikea Shooting Itself in the Foot?

Many in the group have commented about “what’s customer-centric for one segment might not be for another.” Perhaps the most commonly cited example is Ryan Air, which helps the knapsack crowd get around dirt cheap while utterly offending many suitcase carriers. Recently, I’ve run into another example, but the seller advantages aren’t as clear cut.

Recently, my wife and I sold our house of many years and moved into an urban condo. While I wouldn’t stick even our college-aged son with Ikea furniture, they do offer good deals on “safe” items including bookshelves and cabinet/drawer pulls. So I went in there, which I’m generally loathe to do. And once again I discovered that Ikea does not want my business.

First, Ikea is overdue for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) penalties. While I’m still erect, hip and back arthritis can make walking long distances difficult. That can make shopping at Ikea very painful, because once you enter the store, they make you walk in bewildering loops past every piece of merchandise on display before you can find an exit – and the only way out is past the registers (unless you turn back early and retrace your steps). The day I went to buy drawer and cabinet hardware I hurt like hell before uncomfortably standing forever in a seemingly interminable checkout line, especially because I had to walk another mile to find a clerk who could find the online catalog items we’d selected. Of course, I could have stayed in my La-Z-Boy if they’d take orders over the web, but that doesn’t bring you face-to-face with every damn item they sell. No accommodations whatsoever for an aging Boomer, never mind someone disabled.

But then came bookcase shopping. First, walk the entire circular route to see items to make sure they’re right. Then, keep walking to the furniture warehouse, where they expect you to load your own cart (but only after walking another mile at the direction of three different clerks to find one). And then one unit is 80 pounds, and Ikea expects you to bring your own help, if you need it, to lift it onto the cart. They will pull the items and deliver them for a hefty charge. But if you want to get them into your car, so your ripped son can unload them, you’re outta luck. After two shoulder surgeries, I ain’t messin’ with 80 pounds. Next to impossible for anyone older, never mind someone actually disabled.

But hey, I’m just an ordinary aging boomer. And there’s the proverbial 78 million pound elephant (the Boomer generation) walking across the time line towards or past the day when they can no longer comfortably handle a shopping experience designed for younger, sounder of body generations. I do believe Ikea is shooting itself in the foot. What about you?