Do not over-automate the customer experience – please

Written by on September 28, 2015 in Opinion with 3 Comments

Furious emoticonMy wife and I are about a month away from moving into a new house. In a rare flash of organisation, I decided to set up broadband and satellite TV ahead of time. The broadband was easy enough, although I still await the confirmation email with the date the engineer might show up. But the customer experience with the satellite TV company reduced myself and my wife to tears, well, drink. It was appalling.

The first attempt involved an automated voice asking me why I was ringing. I said ‘to buy new package.’ ‘Is that package?’ asked the computer voice. ‘Yes,’ I said, thinking, stupidly, that I would soon be talking to a human being. ‘Are you a current subscriber?’ asked my disembodied friend. I hesitated, fractionally, and, again stupidly, told the truth. ‘Yes.’ ‘Can I have your password?’ asked my electronic customer experience operative.

Of course, the actual customer is my wife, and I did not know the password. So, I made another mistake. I said, ‘I don’t know.’

‘That password does not match our records.’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Sorry, that password is not recognised. If you do not know your password, say ‘don’t know.’’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Sorry, that password is not recognised. If you do not know your password….’

At this point, my wife saved the life of my phone, by gently prising open my fingers, which were in danger of actually crushing it. She probably also saved a window pane from meeting a phone at high speed.

‘Don’t worry, let me do it later,’ volunteered my wife. An offer I accepted with alacrity.

Some time later, glass of wine in hand, the pantomime starts again.

‘Can you tell me why you are calling?’ asked our friend the electronic customer experience representative.

‘New customer,’ said my wife. ‘Clever,’ I thought.

But it didn’t stop the IVR machine asking whether my wife had another account, whether she had had another account in the last twelve months, whether she wanted to buy something from said customer experience guru or just make an enquiry.

Finally, after a glass of wine, she got through to a human being. An actual customer experience executive. But not without being told that the call might be recorded for training purposes. Strangely, we found this comforting.

We were, finally, talking to a human being called Jill (Jill’s name has been changed, for her own sake). She, we assumed, was a skilled customer experience practitioner and would make our sales journey a short and pleasant one.

Actually, Jill, I regret to say, was quite annoying. She talked over my wife. She tried to over-sell us at every opportunity. She even used that classic, used car, emission-free, salesman technique of ‘going to talk to my supervisor,’ about a discount (which was available, in full view, on their website as we spoke with customer experience expert, Jill).

Finally, with the third glass of wine, came ‘the close.’

We agreed upon the Family Package, with movies added in at a decent discount. A date was agreed for an engineer to install the equipment.

My wife fished a debit card from her purse and prepared to pay, cook dinner, and relax for the evening.

The company, apparently steeped in customer experience know-how, does not allow operatives to take credit or debit card details over the phone. They seem to be alone in this.

Instead, you have to input the numbers on your phone.

My wife tried her debit card (twice).

Then she tried my debit card (five times).

Each time the system either picked up two digits, randomly, or missed one, randomly. Each time, she could see from the screen that she had input the correct numbers. Each time Jill re-set the system.

She tried entering the numbers in four digit blocks. She tried entering the numbers one-at-a-time-and-really-slowly. She tried entering them one-at-a-time-and-really-slowly while asking Jill to see if she could see them on the system.

She tried ‘one more time’ five times.

Eventually, still perplexed by the policy that could not be changed, that Jill could not take the number over the phone (internal fraud a big problem perhaps?) we all decided that the best thing was to give up. Even Jill was defeated. A customer experience professional brought low by rubbish, flawed and ill thought through technology.

Our advice would be for the company to read their strap line and then throw out all the expensive software they just bought.

They should, frankly, believe in better.

Tags: , ,

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

3 Reader Comments

Trackback URL Comments RSS Feed

  1. Alex Leslie says:

    Mind you, just found out that the order I placed with the broadband provider a week ago has disappeared. Not a trace. Joy!!

  2. Trig says:

    Everyone who has suffered a similar experience sympathizes with your frustration. We’ve all ranted, but yours was a good rant: enthusiastic, detailed, and not too OTT.

    Just a picky little point I feel obliged to make. Your suggestion of an underlying cause as “over-automation” (in the heading) is not necessarily on target. What you describe is not over-automation: it’s poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed automation. But your description also reveals the presence of inept customer service processes, policy confusion and poor training: human service interactions suck too. In other words you have been dealing with a company that is simply shitty at customer service. We have experienced such companies since before the invention of computers. Or of satellites. So automation, per se, is not to blame, it’s just a willing accessory to the crime.

    By the way, the strap-line “believe in better” presumably encourages both employees and customers to “believe” as opposed to asking them to look for convincing evidence of “better”. Great plan, because if that ruse works, no one has to actually do anything to make it better. A classic piece of mindless marketing.

    Still, that was a great vent and I hope you feel better now. If not, open another bottle of wine, and try to believe in something else impossible before bedtime.

  3. Alex Leslie says:

    That is a good point. You would think/hope that companies buy technology for the right reasons, but in this case it simply made a bad customer experience worse. Actually, we rather enjoy bad customer service stories:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.