Are we, the Customer community, living in the land of make believe?


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I believe that you and I are in communication because at some level we have a deep interest in improving the customer experience: doing right by the customer and expecting that reciprocity will kick in and the customer will do right by us and as such we all win and in the process create a better world. Am I right? Perhaps, that is just where I am at and what I am about.

1999 was the year that I got deeply involved in the whole Customer movement when I joined Siebel to build its consulting practice. And in mid-2000 I was working with The Peppers & Rogers Group evangelising and consulting on 1to1 marketing. Even in those days we were selling the following: the need to put the customer first in corporate decision making; engaging in genuine dialogue with customers; cultivating a learning relationship with customers; putting relevance and personalisation into marketing communications; gluing up the touchpoints to provide an integrated customer experience; rising the importance of the call centre – focusing on effectiveness first and efficiency second; creating a single view of the customer by gluing data together from disparate touchpoints and systems; and a smart use of technology where technology enables the execution of the customer strategy and improves the customer experience.

In 2011 I am reading an array of article from customer gurus, customer evangelists, marketing academics, service centred academics and software vendors. And they are talking about selling the same messages that me and my colleagues were selling over 10 years ago. Yet, how much of the business world has really grasped and acted on this advice? Yes, I know that there are a few exceptional companies that live the ‘customer-centric’ ethos and are prospering. What about the rest? Why is it that the rest are pretty much doing business pretty much they way they were doing it some 10+ years ago. I got a glimpse of an answer this week and I’d like to share it with you.

As my wife is French she regularly travels to France with the three children and so I have taken out European Breakdown Cover with the RAC. Well the annual policy was due to lapse on the 7th August and I had got a renewal reminder letter in the post. My wife was due to leave on Tuesday 2nd August – earlier this week. So I rang up the RAC call centre to renew the policy and here is what happened:

I rang the RAC and chose the wrong option: travel sales. Why? Because the renewal reminder had “Travel Sales” right at the top in a huge font. When I got through to customer services agent (CSA) he was not able to help me because I needed to select the ‘Breakdown” IVR option.

Hitting the IVR for the second time I got through to the CSA in the Breakdown team. I told him that wanted to renew the policy for another year and provided him with the policy number. He quoted me a price and I accepted it. Then I handed over my credit card details and the transaction was completed. So far so good. Then I came across a problem.

The CSA asked me if I had a pen and paper handy. I asked why I needed it. He told me that he had a new policy number for me. I replied that I did not want a new policy or a new policy number – I simply wanted to renew the existing policy and keep the existing policy no. The tone of the CSA changed abruptly as if I had hurled a personal insult at him or was being a ‘difficult’ customer. He asked me what the problem was with a new policy number. I replied that instead of my wife having one policy number she would have to remember two policy numbers and remember when each policy started and finished. Life would just be simpler keeping the old policy number. The CSA told me that was not possible – the ‘system’ did not allow it.

What I took away from this

I can get the difficult involved in putting together a single view of the customer. There are lots of interaction channels and the proliferation continues. The organisation is fragmented into silo with each doing its own thing and that is not easy to change easily. Then there is a whole spaghetti of IT systems some under the control of IT and some not. So putting together a single customer view continues to be a major undertaking and not every company wants to make that investment, that effort.

But how difficult is it to redesign the IVR so that the options speak in the language of the customer? Why send a renewal reminder which says ‘Travel Sales” when I should be renewing with the Breakdown team? Why did the renewal reminder spell out which number I had to contact and which IVR option that I needed to select?

Yet what really got me is the fact that the RAC (a brand name organisation with millions of customers) has not thought through the renewal process from the customer. It really does not take a genius to figure out that the creating a new policy and a new policy number creates complications and extra effort for the customer. And it may lead to extra work for the RAC – when customer comes on the line and quotes the wrong policy number. The thing that has really taken me by surprise is the inability of the system to simple extend the existing policy to another year – thus making it unnecessary to issue a new policy. Why has this issue not been fixed? Surely I am not the first customer who wants to keep his existing policy and is it really that hard to make that change?

To conclude it does appear to me that there is huge gap between the reality on the ground and all the evangelising by us, the Customer community. Are we living in a land of make believe? Are we like the traditional economists who live in a world of superhuman rational actors and perfect information when the reality is that humans are driven/influenced/shaped by subconscious stimuli and in built biases and who find it extremely difficult to make purely rational decisions and who do not have access to perfect information. What do you think?

PS: I am going to join my family in France and am taking a break from blogging for the next 2 – 3 weeks. If you are going on holiday then I wish you the very best. furthermore, I thank each and everyone of you for reading what I write, sharing it with your network and by commenting. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you upon my return. And if you are a customer evangelist it may be worth remembering that if the Customer stuff was easy then it probably would not be that much fun and there would not be any competitive advantage in it!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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