Q: What Is The Cause Of This Customer Interaction Turning Out As It Turned Out?
Do you have an avid interest in designing-conducting research, eliciting-capturing requirements, listening to the voice of the customer, or designing customer experiences? If you have this interest then I invite you to help me solve the following customer experience puzzle:
Last week, while on an average holiday shopping trip, my mother and I decided to stop by Starbucks to get a quick snack…..
When we got up to the counter, my mother placed our simple order, at which point she asked for a “tall” cup of two percent white milk. This is how the conversation played out:
“Mocha,” said the barista.
“No. Milk,” my mother repeated.
“No. Two percent white milk.”
….. I attempted to withhold my personal thoughts. Milk. You know, that white stuff you pour in the coffee? Yes, well, we want an entire cup full of that. Minus the coffee, of course.
Our barista proceeded to ask if we’d like the milk steamed, but we opted for cold. (They steamed it anyway.) Eventually, we managed to get our order straightened out, but not without a few stifled giggles.
I ask you to put your intellect and expertise into action. Please consider the situation and give an answer to the following question: What is the cause of the mismatch between the customer’s request for “milk” and how Starbucks responded to the customer’s request?
Why it is worth spending time on this puzzle? Because we are grappling with that which lies at the heart of making sense of the customer’s voice and sound experience design. It is also the reason that so many systems, including CRM systems, disappoint customers even though the designers are convinced that they have listened to the customer and designed the system to meet the customers needs-requirements.
What Explanations-Interpretations Have Been Put Forth To Date?
To date, I have come across two ways of explaining-interpreting that which occurred between the customer and the Starbucks staff. Allow me to share these with you.
The author of the story (Anna Papachristos) explains this breakdown in communication (and the resulting experience) as follows:
I’m not sure what was more baffling–the fact that no one in the coffee shop listened, or that they’ve become blissfully unaware of the basics. I understand that Starbucks stands as a status symbol more than anything, but have we really distanced ourselves from the simple things in life that badly? This barista’s mistake may have been the result of a random miscommunication, but her confusion was nothing short of hilarious.
Don Peppers in his post (How To Deal With Customer Variability) sees the same situation in terms of variable customer needs-behaviour coming up against standardised processes and operations:
Starbucks, like the roadside diner and any other business, tries to maintain quality and control costs by standardizing processes and operations. Routine tasks, if they can’t be automated, are at least handled in the same way by every employee.
But customers are all different. They want different things – different sizes of products, different delivery dates, different specifications for services, and so forth.
Variability like this is something Frei and Morriss call “customer chaos,” and they suggest it can be managed in two basic ways: either by eliminating it, or by accommodating it. If you choose to eliminate variability, you will generate more efficiency. If you choose to accommodate it, you will generate better service.
My Take On This Interaction?
p>I do not find myself in agreement with the author (Anna Papachristos). Nor do I find myself in agreement with Don Peppers. I propose to share my answer to this customer interaction puzzle in a follow up post – hopefully after some/many of you have put forward your answers by commenting.
I Become a Tesco Mobile Customer in Dec 2013
On the 5th December 2013 I signed up (online) for an iPhone 5s and took out a 24 month contract with Tesco Mobile. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I am a customer and advocate of giffgaff. So why did I, in addition to continuing as a giffgaff customer, also became a Tesco Mobile customer?
The need to buy a second phone, and have a second phone number, arose for business reasons. The decision to go with Tesco Mobile was based to a large degree on the Nunwood placing Tesco Mobile at no 13 in it’s 2013 Customer Experience rankings. You can read my post on those rankings here.
About a week after (around the 12th December) the phone had arrived and I activated it. It worked fine. I was happy with the choice I had made and got busy with organising Christmas as for once we were not travelling but staying home.
I Hit An Important Snag This Week: Vital Functionality is Not There
This week, on Monday, I was in a business meeting and needed access to the internet to access documents in the cloud. So I turned to my iPhone (as I had done for the last three years or so) to turn on the personal hotspot and use that to enable my laptop to connect to the Internet. To my surprise and disbelief I couldn’t find the functionality on the iPhone.
During Tuesday I checked on the internet and talked with some people. They couldn’t find the personal hotspot functionality on my iPhone 5s -yet it was on their iPhones! So I rang Tesco Mobile for help. How helpful were the folks?
Technical Support Showed Up as Honest and Helpful
The chap in Tesco Mobile’s Technical Support was great. I told him of my issue, he got it, he sympathised. He told me that whilst the personal hotspot/tethering functionality worked on other phones it didn’t on Apple iPhones. Why? Because Tesco Mobile has not struck up a suitable agreement with Apple. When I shared the impact of this lack of functionality, he was great. He told me he understood. That this issue has been raised by other iPhone customers. And that he raised the issue within Tesco Mobile. Unfortunately, management has decided not to do anything about it. By the time I ended the phone call I got his frustration, his disappointment at lack of suitable action by Tesco Mobile’s management, and his desire to do his best for customers like me.
Customer Services Quotes Policy and Points The Finger At Me
After taking time to consider my options given that I need that personal hotspot/tethering functionality I rang Tesco Mobile’s Customer Service team. The woman who responded to my call was not great. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I need the personal hotspot/tethering functionality. This week I found that it was not present on my iPhone 5s when I really needed it. I talked to Technical Support and they told me it is not active because Tesco Mobile has not come to a suitable agreement with Apple. I need your help to get this issue sorted out.
Call Centre Agent: There is nothing I can do that functionality is simply not there. It is not there for Apple products. It is there for other products.
Me: I had an iPhone (for 2- 3 years) previously through my employer on the O2 network, the personal hotspot/tethering worked fine. I used it all the time when I was travelling. I travel a lot for business and I really need that functionality. If I had known that this functionality is not present on the iPhone with Tesco Mobile then I would never have bought it. What can you do to help me with this issue?
Call Centre Agent: You had 14 days from the day of the contract to try out the iPhone, send it back and cancel your contract. You didn’t do that. I can’t help you.
Me: I need help with my issue, I don’t need you or anyone else to quote the contract at me. The fact is that I didn’t need the personal hotspot/tethering functionality until this week. And it is only this week that I became aware of it. Can you give me dongle that I can plug into my laptop and the data usage comes out of my existing contract? That would sort out the issue.
Call Centre Agent: we are a mobile company we don’t do dongles. There is nothing I can do.
Me: My contract with Tesco Mobile consists of two parts, the phone and the monthly tariff for calls and data. I’d like to repay, today, in full the outstanding payments for the phone and cancel the contract. That way you are not out of pocket as I have repaid the cost of the phone. And I can go to another provider who does provide the functionality I need. Can I do that?
Call-Centre Agent: Yes, you are on the anytime upgrade plan. You should be able to do that.
Me: Can you please look into that right now and let me know what it will cost for me to end this contract?
Call-Centre Agent: I’ve looked into. If you want to terminate the contract then you have to pay off the entire contract. That comes to £610 for the iPhone and another £300 for the tariff.
Me: Thank you.
My Take on Tesco Mobile and It’s Orientation Towards Its Customers
Everything flows from being. It occurs to me that the being of Tesco Mobile is anything but customer-centric. It is selfish. It is mean. It is extractive. It is dishonest. What leads me to make this statement?
Folks in Tesco Mobile know that the Apple line of products is missing the personal hotspot/tethering functionality. Yet they have chosen to hide this information from those who search for and look at iPhones: nowhere on the website (product page, help and support pages, purchase process pages) have I found anything that informs prospective customers – so that any purchases made are made with open eyes.
Tesco Mobile is the source of my problem and when I brought the problem to Tesco Mobile’s attention, policy was quoted, and the finger of blame was pointed at me. What is my wrong doing? Assuming that because my last iPhone (with 02) had the personal hotspot/tethering functionality then the same functionality would be present on Tesco Mobile. Please note that Tesco Mobile is a MVNO that uses the 02 network.
All through my conversation with the call-centre agent I was the one suggesting ways of moving forward- the dongle idea, terminating the contract – no helpful ideas were put forward by the call-centre agent, her attitude was one of indifference (at best).
I offered Tesco Mobile a fair route to solving the problem – one that would have paid them back for the cost of the mobile phone in full, and the tariff charges to date. Tesco Mobile didn’t go for that. Tesco Mobile insisted in charging me for the phone (which is fair) and for the whole 24 months of tariff charges. Which, in my eyes, amounts:
- to letting me down by not providing the functionality that other networks do provide;
- causing me extra work in that I am faced with the work of finding and switching to another provider; and
- insisting on robbing me by charging me for 22 months of a service (phone calls, texts, data) that they will not be providing and I will not be using.
As I think of Tesco Mobile, the phrase “liar, thieves and cheats” come to mind. Put differently, it occurs to be that Tesco Mobile’s fundamental mode of being is that of a liar, a thief, a cheat. My experience suggests that liar-thieves-cheats don’t easily change their ways. Which is why I will never buy anything from Tesco Mobile again.
I recommend that you think twice before becoming a customer of Tesco Mobile especially if the phone that you intend to use is an Apple iPhone!
In this post I complete my take on the key assertion and the 4 findings put forth in the book The Effortless Experience. Before I launch into this post let’s recap the following points from the first post.
Recap of the essential points from the earlier post
The four major findings put forth by the authors:
- A strategy of delight doesn’t pay
- Satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty
- Customer service interaction tend to drive disloyalty, not loyalty
- The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort
Let’s also get clear on the scope of the research that gave rise to these findings. The primary mechanism was post (contact centre) call surveys completed by customers. And the scope did not included the end 2 end customer experience:
An important disclosure before we reveal the results and their implications: we intentionally limited this study to service transactions and their impact on customer loyalty.
And my position? I shared in the first post that these findings show up for me as a statement of the bleeding obvious. And it occurs to me that the headline grabbing finding “Satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty” is misleading if not flawed. Now I fulfil on my promise to share my rationale.
Dealing with findings 2, 3, and 4
How many studies do we need to get that satisfaction is not a predictor of loyalty? Just look into your experience! I can be satisfied, even delighted, with a physiotherapist and switch to a chiropractor. Why? Because by switching I reduce my travel time from 45-60 minutes (each way) to 15-20 minutes each way. I can be satisfied with a particular restaurant and try out new restaurants that show up on my radar – usually as result of some recommendation. I can be satisfied with a particular mobile telco and switch because of some promotion heavily promoted by a competitor …
Who does the customer turn to when s/he has a pressing issue which needs to be dealt with? Customer Services and the folks sitting in some distant contact centre. What does it take for a customer to make the call to these contact-centres? My experience that many of us only call the contact centre if and only if we cannot address the issue through other means: internet, self-service channels, friends….. Why? Because, on the whole the experience of dealing with contact centres is effortful and painful.
It occurs to me that customers increasingly turn to Customer Services as a last resort and usually with the more complex issues/problems. And on the whole the Customer Services function is not designed to help customers with these complex issues/problems; contact-centres are staffed and run to minimise the cost of operations not to deliver a good customer experience. As a result of the mismatch between the needs of the Customer and the design-operation of the contact-centre customers often have to force a solution out from the contact-centre. That is to say that at best the interaction shows up as effortful. And there are many instances where the contact centre is unhelpful: quoting policy or making promises and not delivering on them as Customer Services has little power in the rest of the organisation. Given this is it any surprising that “Customer service interaction tend to drive disloyalty, not loyalty” and “The key to mitigating disloyalty is reducing customer effort”. Don’t take my word for it, read this post for my British Gas experience.
Dealing with the profound finding: “A strategy of delight doesn’t pay”
Take a look at delight. What shows up? For me, taken a phenomenological approach, the following shows up:
- I rarely find myself delighted in the course of interacting with companies of which I am a customer.
When I do find myself delighted it is because someone who is a representative of the company , or the company itself, has ‘given’ me something that shows up for me as valuable and which I did not expect.
Delight is contextual – the content which shows up as delightful in one context does not necessarily show up as delightful in another context. For example, being upgraded from an economy seat to a business seat, in Virgin Atlantic, for a transatlantic flight showed up a delightful. If I had been upgraded in the case of an hour flight the hassle would have probably outweighed the ‘delight’. Friendly-chatty service show up as delightful when I am relaxed and have plenty of time to spare; the same friendly-chatty service shows up as annoying-intruding-unprofessional when I am in a hurry and simply want the job done, the outcome delivered. If getting the job done turned out to be easier than I imagined, involved less effort on my part, then I tend to be delighted at how easy-effortless the experience was – whether conducting research, making a purchase, or contacting the customer services team and getting help with an issue.
In service transactions there is something like a recipe for generating delight in customers. The recipe involves: solving the customer’s problem; doing so quickly not leaving the customer hanging and most likely worried; minimising the effort that the customer has to make; and last but not least the human element – how you treat the customer as a flesh and blood human being with or without respect, with warmth or with coldness/indifference, as a unique fellow human being or just another call to be handled asap to meet the call time metrics….
How do the authors of the Effortless Experience see, define and measure delight? They see it very differently to me. They do not see delight in phenomenological terms: that which shows up in the customer’s lived experience – body and mind. No, they have defined a strategy of delight as consisting of a number of tactics falling under the category Moments of “Wow”:
“Moments of “Wow”
- Willingness of service to go above and beyond
- Applying knowledge about customers
- Exceeding customer expectations
- Teaching the customer
- Offering alternatives
- Perceived value of alternatives”
So what the author’s research is testing, if it is testing anything, is the effectiveness of these tactics in generating delight and thus loyalty. What if these tactics annoy customers rather than delight customers? Just this week, I rang my broadband supplier as my patience had run out. The contact-centre agent was helpful. In between conducting the tests, and understanding the size of my home, she was telling me about a special offer (wireless range extender) that the company had on, encouraging me to take advantage of this offer, and telling me she would be happy to guide me through the online process. Did this land as delightful for me? No! Why not? Because I just wanted her to fix my broadband so I could get my work done! I didn’t ring to get advice. I didn’t ring to get a free wireless range extender. I range because the broadband was slow, had been slow intermittently over weeks, and that day I desperately needed the broadband to work because I had pressing work to get done and for that I needed a fast (enough) internet connection!
Now take a look at what the authors have placed under the category of Customer Effort:
- Number of transfers
- Repeating information
- First contact resolution
- Number of contacts to resolve
- Perceived additional effort to resolve
- Ease of contacting service
- Channel switching
- Time to resolve”
It occurs to me that many of the factors that are likely to lead to delight showing up in customers, as a lived bodily experience, in-around-after a customer service interaction have been placed in the Customer Effort category.
If I am correct, this exhaustive research, the millions of data points, and the subsequent profound finding “Strategy of delight doesn’t pay” is:
- misleading at best;
- has been misinterpreted and misreported by many in the media (including bloggers) who failed to dive into the fundamental grounds of this research;
- does not prove that leaving customers feeling delighted does not generate an economic return.
I get that I make mistakes. If you see mistakes in the analysis that I have shared with you then please point them out to me by commenting.