deflated smiley face balloon on the street
PHOTO: Nathan Dumlao

Last week, while running an intensive workshop on Intelligent Content for a client’s global customer service team I asked them to consider the future. We talked about all the usual suspects: virtual reality, augmented reality, voice assistant, chatbots, increased use of video and audio. We even talked about planning for the demise of social networks as we currently know them.

An interesting discussion also took place around the apparently heretical idea that pushing customers away from interacting with humans to solve their problems may not be the best customer experience. We discussed the use of phrases like “deflecting” or “containing” the customer in depth. While such measures may make sense from an internal cost-cutting sense, it may be that making a phone call could be the quickest and most efficient way to resolve a customer's problem. And businesses that build relationships last longer than those that actively discourage them.

Related Article: Why I Hate Customer Service Chatbots

When Self-Service Becomes Bad Service

The discussion was brought home to me over the weekend when I tried to contact my bank. My wife and I had an appointment to chat with someone on Saturday morning. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we realized early that morning that we couldn't make the appointment. No problem, I thought, I’ll just call them and cancel.

If only it had been that easy.

A quick search on the web and I had the phone number for my local branch — which routed me to a centralized national phone system. I had to listen to a whole menu of choices before I found out which button to press to connect to my local branch (whose number I thought had directly dialed). The phone just rang and rang before eventually I got a recorded message that “everyone was busy helping other customers.” 

That was it. No opportunity or process to leave a message, so I could cancel the existing appointment. Instead, I received another message that suggested I visit the website to schedule an appointment. The exact opposite of what I wanted to do. I called five times and never connected to a human. I later found out that those so-called local numbers don’t ring out in the branches. And of course my annoyed tweet about it just resulted in a canned “how can we help you” response hours after the appointment time. 

What impression did this leave with my local branch staff? That I couldn’t be bothered to show up?

Related Article: Surprise! Your Customers Still Want to Speak to a Humans

Before We Plan the Customer Experience of the Future, Let's See Where We Are Today

At first this may seem like an isolated example of poor customer experience. But unfortunately it isn’t: I encountered at least three other instances over the weekend (maybe I was just attuned to look for bad experiences following the bank incident).

We still have too many so-called customer experience initiatives that are driven by IT systems that in fact make things that should be easy, more complex. In most cases such systems place the onus on the customer to conform to the way the company wants to run its internal operations. Allied to that is the fact that the so-called success of many customer experience initiatives are measured by false metrics that are about meeting internal efficiency goals rather than measuring the customer’s success.

So when it comes to looking at customer experience trends for 2020, maybe we should first start by looking at where we are today and instead of introducing yet more complexity, figure out just how easy it is for our customers to do business with us today. After all, I should be able to make a simple phone call to my bank — shouldn’t I?