Angry customer

Multi-channel customer experience: still failing

A bad customer experience. We all know what it feels like. The blow-a-gasket, go-ballistic, hit-the-ceiling, foam-at-the-mouth rage after an encounter with customer “service” that feels more like a scheme for customer derangement. And automation only makes the customer experience worse, as this humorous video from Solaris Media Ltd shows:

It makes you want to tear your hair out. Now, I don’t have any hair on my head because I shave it. But even if I didn’t, I still wouldn’t have that much hair because I have to call vendors’ customer service a lot.

It’s not as if nobody has ever identified the qualities and methods that go into consistently excellent customer experience. Zappos’ founder Tony Hsieh wrote a book, Delivering Happiness, re-defining what an excellent customer experience looks like.

Too bad many companies haven’t read Tony’s book. And even if they read it, they are far from implementing it. In fact, sometimes it feels like some businesses haven’t updated their customer service practices since the automobile replaced the horse-drawn cart. And I still feel like tearing out my non-existent hair when customer representatives – usually those from big service providers – telecom, electricity, cable TV, Internet providers – seem to be completely unfamiliar with even the most fundamental information about my history with their brands across channels.

Like the man in the video above, I’m angry because they don’t “see me.” They don’t get the picture of the experience I’ve encountered with the organization across channels.

Here are 11 examples of customer service experiences that make me want to blow my top; especially because all of them have solutions

Problem: Making me describe the problem over and over and over and over …

I explain my problem to Rep A, who transfers the call to Rep B, who asks me to explain the problem all over again. Simple solution: Implement a unified realtime CRM system for logging every customer encounter and categorizing it so that Rep B knows what the issue is before speaking with me. I wouldn’t mind – in fact I would be delighted – if Rep B asked, “please give me a moment to read the log of your previous conversation with Rep A to catch up.”

Problem: Expecting customers to remember order numbers.

If I buy something online and immediately call customer service, the system doesn’t recognize that I’ve just bought something online, and makes me identify the transaction with an order ID. Without that number, the customer service representative has to search for this order. I don’t have the number at my fingertips, because – guess what – I’ve been waiting on the phone for 20 minutes, and I’m doing other things while waiting – such as driving. Simple solution: Use the phone number I called from – the same one I entered when I placed the order – to find my order automatically. A smart CRM system would automatically pull up my recent order in front of the customer representative.

Problem: Continuing to sell after customers have bought.

I’ve just purchased a washing machine online. But an email / retargeting ad / Facebook post is still ‘chasing’ me across the Web everywhere I go with the same item. And it’s not a vacuum cleaner, which I might be interested in as a bundle because I’m a cleaning junkie. It’s an ad showcasing a washing machine, and I just purchased one. I’m not likely to want to buy another one for many years. Simple solution: Integrate CRM with all remarketing channels: email, including social media, sms, and mobile push.

Problem: Making returning customers re-enter billing and shipping information for new purchases.

When I log in, instead of confirming a short security question, I have to re-enter all my billing details from scratch. Simple Solution: Learn from Amazon’s ‘one-click’ checkout experience. Use an auto-complete widget for the billing form.

Problem: Failing to provide chat or email connections to customer service.

The only way I can ask questions or report problems is to call the company’s maddening Interactive Voice Response system (IVR). This means I can’t contact the company conveniently. I have to wait and listen to their endless IVR messages about how much they appreciate my business. They just don’t appreciate it enough not to waste my time. Really, really simple solution: Add an email address to the customer service page – and assign someone to respond to the messages.

Problem: Doubling down on the frustrating IVR customer experience.

While my frustration grows about treading water on “hold,” the voice coming out of the IVR relentlessly hypes the latest promotion, “Spring in Bratislava – Europe’s Best-Kept Secret” . Even if I were interested in a trip, I wouldn’t book one while I can’t get an answer to a simple question. Instead I have to endure these ads, and am about as likely to book the Bratislava trip as I am to book “Vladimir Putin’s Crimean Holiday.” Simple Solution: If I’ve made a transaction through any channel, the CRM / ERP system should be able to predict my likely reasons for calling, and take me to a relevant menu. And, if none of those choices meet my need, directly to a customer representative. The following IVR script would delight me so much that I would rave about your brand to everyone I speak with: “Hi, we see that, you have just done X with us. Are you inquiring about X?”

Problem: Failing to quickly identify my preferred local branch office and route the call directly, even if I’m a regular buyer.

They have my address. They clearly have their branches’ addresses. But they don’t connect the dots to route my call properly. Simple Solution: If I’m a repeat customer, who has purchased from a local branch before, my mobile number stored in the CRM system, along with the purchase history from that local branch. So a more effective IVR script would go something like: “If you want to inquire something specific from your preferred local branch such as branch X, press 2.”

Problem: Failing to give service representatives visibility of my history with the company.

Even if they load my order ID, they can’t see whether I purchased before, have been a loyal fan, or qualify for a certain deal. Every conversation with a customer representative feels like a first date. What a waste.Simple Solution: The unified CRM system I talked about earlier. When my call is routed to a representative, display the customer information that goes with that phone number or an account number that I entered earlier. A smarter solution would predict what I’m likely to be interested in and display those special offers and bundles to the representative. My shopping patterns are already in the database. Big data is about turning this information into insight.

Problem: Making irrelevant product recommendations.

I’m not likely to pay attention to complementary cross-sell or up-sell products that are irrelevant. If I just booked “Acapulco Spring Break: Booze, Boogie and Babes” in Cancun, chances are I’m not interested in “Photography Month in Bratislava.” But I may be very interested in hotel room upgrade or a tequila tasting. Simple Solution: Use a smart product recommendation system, which can be easily integrated with your CRM and marketing channels: email, social media, sms, customer service center and others.

Problem: Explaining why you can’t do “it” instead of just doing “it.”

For example, I have a mortgage, checking account, and credit cards with one financial services company. I expect to be able to find out the most recent payment received on my mortgage, the last transaction that cleared in my checking account, and the balance on my credit card in one call. Instead of getting information, I get an explanation of why I can’t get that information. That explanation is that these are three separate business units, each of which has a different information system. Another example: I’m using a payment processing system for my business, and suddenly, when I can’t process customer payments – and therefore can’t ship product. I get an excuse that the system is down for an indefinite period. Simple Solution: Address internal systems and operational problems and empower service representatives to “solve” problems – not just “respond” to them.


Problem: Finger-pointing instead of problem-solving.

Many of businesses’ core services require integrate multiple functions – for example, event management and payment processing – and sell the functionality as a package. But when I have a problem with part of the solution – say, credit card processing – customer service tells me they don’t support that functionality and I have to call the payment processing company. This is a vendor that I had no choice about. It has no customer service phone number. The only online “help” is a set of FAQs that link to documentation on how to use the API. Then my unsatisfactory vendor gilds the lily by emailing me daily to sign up for conferences, classes, webinars and how to improve … customer experience. It’s a bad customer experience trifecta that will have me looking for a new way to do things – two apps that work. Simple Solution: Implement a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) service model for managing service calls from end to end.

I’m sure you’ve had at least a few of these infuriating customer experiences.

A lot of people share my frustration, according to ADS Marketing. A study by customer service software provider ZenDesk reveals some statistics to think about:

  • 16 percent of angry customers vent their frustrations on social media after a bad customer service experience,– but only 8 percent will post about a good customer experience.
  • 60 percent of customers say they are strongly influenced by a company’s ratings and customer comments on social media sites
  • 35 percent say they stop buying from a company after a single negative experience with customer service.
  • 42 percent of respondents said their biggest frustration with customer experience was repeating their problems to multiple reps.

Why is customer experience still like this in 2015,  when integrated software systems should be the standard for doing business? And at a time when “software is eating the world.”

My take is that poor customer experience is more prevalent in monopoly markets and less so in competitive markets.

In monopoly markets, customers don’t have choices. If a company is the only provider, customers have no choice but to buy from that supplier, regardless of how poor the customer experience is.

The more competitive a market becomes, the more alternatives are available to the shopper. The more alternatives, the higher shoppers’ expectations are for a seamless customer experience across channels.

The only way to deliver better customer experience across a wide scale of services is to introduce competition in the market. This forces businesses to integrate systems and deliver an excellent customer experience across channels, or else see customers replace those vendors with their competitors.

It seems to me that many times customer experience boils down to regulation. The lighter the burden of regulation, and the lower the barrier for more market entry, the more alternatives will become available for customers. More companies will be forced to deliver better customer experience. (If you want a better customer experience, perhaps the first thing to think about is how you vote.)

As new competitors jump into the market, it’s simply good business to deliver proactive, instead of reactive, customer service. You need a campaign to identify and fix weaknesses in your customer experience before enraged customers start a social media campaign against you.

Not everyone would describe his or her business as “delivering happiness,” the way Tony Hsieh does. And even Hsieh is clear about the business benefit of his happiness strategy. Great customer experience can be a strong business advantage, and one that lowers costs overall.

Have you had notable experiences of bad customer experiences? Please share!