woman walking in circular hallway with shopping bag
PHOTO: Ryoji Iwata

Last year, I bought a shiny new phone. During the purchase process, I had to create an account and register the phone, providing the model and carrier, etc. For weeks afterward, I enjoyed the crisp app launches, cool wallpapers and amazing camera.

Then the phone started to drag. Apps hung, calls dropped. So I visited the manufacturer’s site. I logged in to my account and searched the knowledge base for “slowed phone.” The results included information for every phone the company has ever made. I added the phone model, and the results included every operating system ever run on that model. I added the operating system, and it showed me results for every carrier.

I’m a persistent guy, and could have kept searching for an hour, but I decided to try the customer support chat instead. To start, I had to tell the chat agent who I was and every detail of my phone: model, operating system, carrier, the problem I was having. Everything I had already done online. 

After all that, the company still couldn’t help me, so the chat agent suggested that I visit one of the company’s stores for in-person help at the support desk. When I did that, I had to provide all the information again. Final recommendation? Factory reset.

I’ll buy my phone from someone else next time, thanks.


Related Article: How to Deliver Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Customer Experience

The Customer Journey

What went wrong? The company couldn’t fix the problem, of course, but that wasn’t half as annoying as the time I wasted regurgitating basic details. To keep me happy (or at least minimally irritated), all the manufacturer had to do was save me 30 seconds here and there by removing bumps in my journey as a customer.

Customers move between these three stages:

  1. Find: They search for a solution — typically a product, but sometimes a piece of information or content.
  2. Buy: They acquire the solution, usually with money but sometimes with time or something else.
  3. Use: They apply the solution by using the product or service.

Businesses are really good at optimizing individual stages of the journey. Marketing makes sure customers find the products. Sales makes sure they can buy. And customer care provides support.

What brands are bad at — horrible at, actually — is smoothing the journey between those stages. Instead, they create friction.

Friction From Poor Hand-offs

One of the most common sources of friction in the customer journey is a poor hand-off.

That’s what happened to me: poor hand-offs. I found the phone. I bought it. Customer care was there for me. But the manufacturer couldn’t pass my information — my name, the phone model, my problem — from stage to stage.

Here’s a rundown of the process I went through:

  • I had to enter that information to register, even as I purchased the product.
  • I had to specify the phone model and carrier when searching the knowledge base — even though I was logged in to my account, which included that information.
  • I had to repeatedly explain the problem and provide information about the device and my carrier to one party after another.

Those friction points quickly went from annoying to infuriating.

I’m fussy, but I’m not the only one. In fact, in a 2013 study conducted by Loudhouse on behalf of Zendesk, 87 percent of 7,000 online shoppers surveyed said organizations need to work harder to provide a more consistent experience across stages.

Fixing this — providing a more consistent customer experience (CX) — seems simple. But organizations still fail at it. They need a framework. They need intelligent CX.

Related Article: Frictionless Customer Experiences Are the Best Customer Experiences

Pleased or Peeved: Intelligent CX Affects the Customer Journey

Intelligent CX smooths the transition between the find, buy and use stages, in part by ensuring data transparency from one stage to the next.

It starts with simple things, like passing data between the teams that handle each stage of the journey. In my situation, the manufacturer could have removed almost all of the friction by taking the following steps:

  • Filtering my searches based on my purchase history.
  • Passing my last query to the chat agent.
  • Enabling the store’s support personnel to see my search and chat histories, so someone would have been able to help me more quickly when I walked through the door.

Remember, all of that information was tied to my account. No magic required. The manufacturer just needed to share information from one stage to the next: from find to buy to use.

To really ace intelligent CX, the manufacturer could have had artificial intelligence use that data to carry out a few simple tasks, such as these:

  • Use my search history and product ownership to provide a faster response via an automated chat agent.
  • Use my chat transcript to assign me to the best in-store support representative for my problem.
  • Compare my product ownership and search histories to others, then send me directly to the best help document.

It’s All Perception

Since the factory reset, my phone has been amazing. It’s back to its old, super-speedy self. But I probably won’t buy another one.

That’s not rational. I spent two hours of my life fixing the performance issue. I’ve used the phone for hundreds of hours. But like most humans, I’m not always rational: I tend to remember the best or worst moment of my experiences with a brand. In this case, the worst — the moment of greatest friction — prevailed.

If brands want to keep customers, they must be mindful of friction they create as those customers move between the find, buy and use stages.

If you use intelligent CX, you’ll help me remember a positive experience. Then I’m yours.