This is a guest blog by my brilliant colleague Lara Kottsieper, inspired by some fairly effortful Christmas customer experiences…
Coming back from Christmas holidays a few weeks ago, I was stuck in the most ginormous queue I’d ever been in. Twice. The first time when dropping bags at the EasyJet counter. The second, when waiting to go through security. I was frustrated, surrounded by screaming children and almost missed my flight. The experience at Luton Airport on the way out had been far better. I used the EasyJet bag drop machine and was through in the space of 2 minutes. In comparison, Geneva Airport was slowed down by much more hand-holding and was limited by the number of staff on hand. This made me think, when did customers start putting so much effort in and is it necessarily always faster?
There are times when taking ownership as the customer is helpful. As someone who does frequent but small supermarket shops, self-checkouts are my preferred method of paying. A whopping 90% of shoppers aged 18-39 are the same. Apart from when I do a larger shop or hear the dreaded “unexpected item in bagging area” warning, of course.
Airport check-in and bag drop have also been ‘revolutionised’. Again, when it works, it works brilliantly. Using the EasyJet app I can book flights, check-in using my saved passport details and breeze past the check-in area, straight through security. The benefits for airlines doing this are clear, they save costs on printing and personnel, and customers are happier about less queuing. Self-bag drops increase terminal capacity by 60% and reduce operational costs by 40%. The frustration then arises when the technology hasn’t been rolled out universally, as was the case at Geneva Airport.
On the flip side, the time wasted on the phone to service providers and becoming frustrated with webchats is huge when problems do arise. The average customer can expect to spend around 43 days of their life waiting on hold. This is bad for companies too, as when placed on hold 60% of us hang up, with 30% of those that hang up never calling again.
A Which? survey also found that most energy companies answer the phone faster to potential new customers than to existing ones. One freelance photographer was so frustrated with his energy provider, that he logged every phone call and letter he made to them during working hours, and then threatening to bill them for his loss of earnings. He was paid £2,000 by the energy provider after threatening to take them to court, for the time taken to deal with the disputes.
Finally, we are so inundated with requests for feedback that the term ‘feedback fatigue’ has been coined. Companies try to gather too much data at once, rather than spending the resources to conduct in-depth research themselves. They try so hard to collect positive reviews, that consumers are incentivized to write them for them. Some individual reviewers are writing a dozen or so a week, including one who gave four or five-star reviews for items including: “a blackhead remover, a growlight, some ice cube trays, and a remote control boat” over a period of a couple of days. Worryingly, 97% of customers read online reviews for local businesses in 2017, yet 84% of customers can’t always spot fake reviews. The winner of the feedback-manipulation-prize goes to one TripAdvisor reviewer who turned the shed in his back garden into the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.
So, making customers do the work only succeeds when it’s genuinely easy to do and faster. However, there can be unintended consequences to reducing the number of human interactions customers have, such as increased stealing at supermarket self-checkouts and the rise of fake reviews. The technology is not yet perfect, so when complications arise or requests are not straight-forward, this can lead to greater frustrations for customers, ergo more time wasted on hold.
Therefore, the best solution seems to be to hand responsibility to customers only when it will genuinely make things easier. Otherwise, always ensure you have well-trained colleagues to hand to make the customer experience brilliant. It will be worth it.