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Customer Strategies engineered to solve yesterday’s challenges, or, “Why does the cable company hate us?”

by Michael Maoz  |  February 11, 2014  |  1 Comment

One of the most prescient lines I have ever heard came from a Financial Services firm’s head of customer experience. It is a line I have repeated numerous times over the years. We were discussing how it was that I could be three different answers from the same company. They have a travel group, a rewards points team, a billing team, and a fraud team and general customer service team. They never seemed to know what one another was up to or had said to me. Then came her answer: “Yes, they are they, and we are we, and though they and we are us, there is no us.”

I was visiting a young couple in San Francisco last week. They are a part of a demographic / psychographic that is very successful, well educated, and tech-savvy. They also are a new breed who, though they have high incomes relative to the overall US population, could never afford a place to live in San Francisco, and instead rent. They also do not own a car. Who needs a car when you have Uber and Zipcars?

One of the couple was just getting off of a phone call, looking very flustered and slightly apoplectic. I could hear the torrent of words, and there tone became increasingly frustrated. The issue: returning a Cisco cable box to the cable provider. The box was perfect, just that they consolidated from two apartments to one, and now they needed only one box and one service. Simple, eh?

Simple in the same way that neural brain connections are simple. Only with the human brain there are 100,000,000,000,000 connections, while with the cable company, they just want to return the silly box.

Said Cable Provider spends tens of millions of dollars on social media each year. It employees hundreds of people listening to Tweets and posts. It does social network analysis. It hosts a community. It surveys. It has a blog. But what it does not have is a basic understanding of one of the new consumers. Essentially, they have engineered today’s customer service processes for yesterday’s challenge.

For example, this couple made nine calls to ‘the company.’ In saying ‘the company’ it is to capture the discovery that, in fact, it is two companies: the Cable Provider and the third party that retrieves the boxes. And that company does not ‘get’ that a significant urban population is mobile, but may not have cars, or time to waste, or an understanding of your Kafkaesque bureaucracy.  

How do you return a cable box in San Francisco? You can have it picked up (for a fee), or you can deliver it to a return office, or you can ship it. Simple, right? Except you cannot have it picked up from any place other than where it was installed. But you don’t live there anymore. And if you go back there, you can have a four hour time window. So: kill six hours of your work life. And you don’t want to schlep a 20 pound piece of hardware in a taxi eight miles through traffic. So you will ship it! You call and ask for a carton and a shipping label. You get the carton and a shipping label for a 2 pound item. But yours is 20 pounds, and they knew that. So you call again. This time they ship you more cartons, but no label. You call again. This time they send you more boxes and two more shipping labels for two pounds each.

This time you call and ask if they couldn’t just PLEASE pick it up at your office. Then they tell you that “They” can’t make exceptions. Why not? Because ‘they’ are not the cable provider. Could you transfer me to the Cable Provider? Sure. Now you start explaining everything from scratch because the two ‘theys’ do not share context of calls. Can you enter the issue on line? No.

Back and forth this went, and you need not know the outcome (unresolved). But the company has no flexibility because it does not want to. The third party is just that. Their only interest is following orders at the customer’s peril. Is there follow up? Not so far. Was there a satisfaction survey? No.

Who will detect the problem? Had they Tweeted and added their lonely voices to the digital cesspool of fetid complainers, many authentic, many malicious, some genuine, differing in type and kind, what would have happened?

Social Media has become the Star Wars Space Based Defensive Shield – invest enough and all problems will be solved, while the real enemy of great customer service has shifted. Now it is time, convenience, agility. Not the right to complain. Who wants it to come to that?

Rather than focus on the Cable Provider, we need to look at ourselves and our organisations and ask how our customers are truly experiencing our marketing process and sales process and on boarding and billing and customer service – across the partner ecosystem and across all of our engagement channels. And not “The” customer, but across different age groups, or economic, or education – a breakdown on the level of specific customer personae.

How are you doing at this?

Category: analytics-for-social-crm  business-intelligence  cio  crm  innovation-and-customer-experience  leadership  social-crm  social-networking  social-software  strategic-planning  twitter  

Michael Maoz
VP Distinguished Analyst
13 years at Gartner
26 years IT industry

Michael Maoz is a research vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. His research focuses on CRM and customer-centric Web strategies. Mr. Maoz is the research leader for both the customer service and support strategies area and customer-centric Web… Read Full Bio

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