Yesterday I read an interesting article on self service (well worth reading) and this got me thinking about my recent experience with the Home Delivery Network, a parcel delivery firm that operates in the UK.
One day I was handed this card by wife. She told me that it looked like a parcel had come for me and as no-one had been home the driver had not been able to deliver the parcel. The first thing I noticed was that the card had not been completed and so I was not able to tell:
- who the parcel was for as there are five of us living at this address;
- when the delivery firm had attempted to deliver it and failed;
- what had actually happened to the parcel – taken back to the depot or left with a neighbour etc.
What I did notice was 8 digit parcel ID and the instruction to look at the back of the card for contact details. Reading the back it became clear that I was being urged to go to the website. I did exactly that and entered both the parcel ID and my postcode. The website responded with the following message: “Your parcel(s) cannot be rescheduled for delivery, please contact customer services on 0871 977 0800”. Just to make sure that I had not made an error, I had a second go at entering the parcel ID and postcode and found that I got the same message.
So I called the number and found that straight away (no waiting) the IVR kicked in and once I had entered the parcel ID it spelt out when I could get the parcel delivered. As it was a Tuesday, I requested delivery on the Thursday and left my home number so that delivery firm could ring me back if there was an issue. At this point I was happy with the experience as it had been easy to schedule a delivery.
Thursday arrived and departed: we did not get the parcel delivered and we did not get a phone call to let us know that there was an issue. So I contacted customer services (the IVR) and proceeded to listen to the option and select another date for delivery. That date came and went: no delivery, no phone call. Then I made a third attempt and met the same fate.
At this point I became rather frustrated even angry. Why? Because I wanted to get my hands on the parcel and I could not. Every time I dialled the customer services number I found myself faced with the IVR which spelled out the dates when I could reschedule delivery. I was wondering: how do I get through to a human being who can help me with my problem?
Then I made another attempt to contact customer services. This time I listened to the IVR and did not opt for any of the delivery dates and found that right at the end I was given an option to speak to a human being. I selected that option and found myself talking to Kylie. She greeted me warmly, took my details, looked at her system and was able to tell me that the parcel was addressed to (my wife) and sent by Republic (the clothes retailer).
Kylie also told me that the delivery drivers handheld had failed and so he had not been able to upload the information into the system. As a result I had not been able to find and reschedule the delivery of the parcel. Then she went on to tell me that the notes on her system were telling her that the parcel had actually been delivered the very first time. And clearly that might explain why I had a lack of success in getting the parcel delivered!
When I told Kylie that my wife and I had not received that parcel (despite what her systems said) Kylie went on to clearly explain what I need to do. She was great and she completely changed my mood and my attitude: she took away my frustration because she had shed light on my situation and provided me with a clear path that I needed to follow to close the matter out. Above all she had a friendly, helpful disposition throughout our conversation: she made me feel that she was on my side.
So here is my take on self-service technology:
Your self-service technology is only as good as the people, processes, technology and data that sits behind your self-service technology
If you consider my experience, you find that the driver left the card behind even though he had delivered the parcel according to Kylie. Second, the delivery driver did not fill in the data fields in the card: either he should have filled in the data fields or the data fields should not be there. Third, his handheld failed to update the data into the delivery tracking system. Fourth, the IVR allowed me to schedule a delivery even though there was no parcel to be delivered as it had already been delivered.
Give customers an incentive to use the self-service technology: make their life quicker and easier
At first I jumped at the idea of rescheduling the parcel delivery through a website. Why? Because, in the past I have had to make a number of calls and/or wait a long time to have delivery depots answer my calls, find my parcel on their system and then reschedule a delivery. Even when the website did not work, I was happy to use the IVR to schedule the delivery as it was quick and easy.
Give customers an easy way to bypass the self-service technology
It is necessary to give customers an easy to find option to bypass the self-service technology. Why? Because the self-service technology can fail and does fail as it did in my case where neither the web nor the IVR was able to tell me that there was no parcel left to deliver or to deliver that parcel. In my case, I made four failed contacts with the delivery firm before I was able to figure out how to get through to a helpful human being – a customer services agent called Kylie.
Also because not all customers can or want to use self-service technology. A case in point is the UK supermarkets replacing cashiers with self-service tills where the customer has to do the work of the cashier. I am in that segment of people who do not agree to the proposition that I should do the work of the supermarkets especially as the two times I have made the effort the process has not worked and I have had to wait for one of the supermarket staff to come over and sort out the issues.
The more you replace human-human interactions with self-service technology the more important human beings become
Why? Because human beings are usually the best at dealing with and sorting out the problems that you create for your customers through the introduction of self-service technology. This is where Kylie was great: she simply defused by frustration and anger by listening to me, getting where I was at and then helping me through to the solution.
Whilst self-service technologies can improve the functional experience it tends to be at the cost of the emotional experience
At a recent conference I heard several female customers mention that whilst they appreciated the ease and convenience of banking electronically with First Direct they did not feel any emotional bond with First Direct because they never spoke with a human being. This points to a truth: whilst technology can make life easier it rarely makes human beings feel acknowledged, appreciated, respected, valued. This is why I love Kylie: she made me feel all those things when the self-service technology had left me feeling insignificant, neglected and helpless.