Time to Say Goodbye?

You know what it’s like. 

One minute you have a slightly blocked sink, the next your entire kitchen floor has been ripped up, four machines with a jet-engine decibel level have been installed, and a worried looking builder is telling you the other guy got it wrong and asbestos may have been forcefully circulating through the house for the past three weeks.

It’s fair to say this rapid escalation of events wasn’t the comedown from lockdown I’d been hoping for. Mistake after mistake has been made by our insurance company so after eight weeks without action, I felt fairly sure that if I raised a complaint with them, they’d be rather eager to help.

What I didn’t expect was another example of how companies are increasingly taking liberties with customers’ time, stepping back from taking responsibility and making customers do the work rather than take responsibility themselves.

I asked to complain to my Case Manager’s boss. I was told this wasn’t possible, and that the process was to complain to the Case Manager.

I said that might be awkward as the complaint was about him. They said they understood, but I should give him time to respond.

I pointed out that the complaint was about his continuing failure to respond. They said hmmm, that does seem a little ironic. Like rain on your wedding day. I pointed out that’s not ironic, that’s just bad luck. They said I should listen to the song. I said we’re going off topic.

Ultimately, I have to wait for his response and, whether happy or not, then have to log in to my claims portal and escalate it myself.

The combination of the rise of the DIY customer and the escalation of marketing purpose statements has led to numerous examples of companies over-estimating their importance in customers lives and increasing their demands on customer’s time.

I’ve written before about the epidemic of feedback we’re in, making it impossible to buy a book, visit a restaurant, or go to the toilet without being asked to rate your experience.

Some companies have taken this further. Google is just one of several companies who’ve written to me as a matter of urgency, presumably hoping I’ll see the notification and decide it’s better to be late picking up my son from school than miss this chance of a lifetime to share my thoughts with one of the internet’s tech giants.

Similarly, Luis Melo summed up most customers’ feelings after British Airways sent him this 12-minute feedback survey:

Asking customers for feedback should be last resort for organisations, used only to add embellishment to the mountain of data that already exists. Call recordings, error rates, drop out points, social media comments, retention rates and colleague feedback should be able to provide most of what’s needed about the service being provided without the need to disturb a person’s latest Netflix binge.

This self-interest came to mind again recently when an over-enthusiastic pensions provider wrote to update me on the changes their were making to their internet portal. The promise wasn’t only that this was a 19-minute read, but that it was ‘just‘ a 19 minute read, as if customers wouldn’t be able to believe their luck.

(In fact, to be really pedantic, the fact it says ‘designed to take just 19 minutes’ suggests they had a shorter version ready to go but have evidence that 19 minutes is the optimum time to be spent on such things, so upped it accordingly).

Some organisations are forgetting that customers are there to be served, that the experience should be shaped around the jobs customers need to get done and when, not ‘we’re busy right now, please call us back at a more convenient time for us to answer your call’. I once suggested to a client that their annual call waiting time should be converted into ‘customers lives wasted’ to really land the point internally.

Others, though, remember exactly where the balance of effort should be. Riverford (who I may have mentioned before) get in touch just once a year asking for genuine input into ideas they’re working on (and then get in touch again to tell you what they’re doing about it). Amazon are not only the kings of convenience but also the least likely to ask you for feedback, using the mountain of data at their disposal to understand how they’re doing. And my friendly IFA, who always insists on given a pre-written and pre-stamped envelope with any forms that need filling in and sending back.

An organisations job is to make a customer’s life easier or better somehow. If it starts to feel like they’re doing the work themselves they’ll soon head elsewhere, leaving the company with plenty of time to read through their overly-detailed feedback survey results.

Isn’t that ironic?

Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly update below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation

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