Travelex: 7 lessons for service excellence and the customer experience

Recently I had overseas friends come over and visit us.  It just so happened that they had a big problem and thus had to make contact with Travelex to get it sorted out.  How did things play out?  What was their experience?  And what can we learn about the customer|company interface/interaction/’relationship’?    Lets use the job-to-be-done approach and work our way through.

The job to be done: get access to the holiday money

My friends had an issue – they had loaded all of their holiday money onto two cash cards and they were not able to use one of these cards.  And that showed up in their world as a big problem that had to be sorted out .  Why were they not able to use the Travelex cash card?  Because they could not remember the PIN.   Why did this issue arise?  A random PIN had been issued with the cash card.  This PIN was not meaningful to my friends so they forgot it and were not able to reconstruct it through trial and error using meaningful dates/numbers.

Given this problem, my friends had a job for Travelex: sort out their issues so that they could use the card, get access to the money that was ‘stored’ on the card.  This job showed up as being particularly important – they were  at the start of their holiday and would need the money sometime during their holiday.  Probably soon.

Website: time-consuming and not useful in addressing the issue

Having access to the internet, my friends turned to the website.   They looked around the website and they did not find any useful information.  They looked around for someone to talk to / help them out on the website.  No luck – there is no LiveChat facility on the Travelex website.  At least they were able to get the phone number for Customer Service and so they were hopeful.

Call-centre:  your call is important to us yet not important enough to answer!

Struggling with getting help via the website they called Customer Service.  And then they waited and waited and waited.  Every so often they were told that their call was important to Travelex.  Five minutes went by, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes.   How did they feel?  Frustrated.   What frustrated them the most:

  • the gulf between the reality of their experience and the voice which kept repeating that their call was important to Travelex…..;
  • not knowing where they were in the queue and how long it would take for Travelex to answer their call;
  • not being presented with the option of leaving a contact number and have Travelex call them back.

After 20 minutes my friends hung up the phone as time was running by and they had to get going if they were to deliver on their promise to their boys and make a day of it at Thorpe Park.

What can we learn from this

1. Companies generate wasted effort and poor customer experiences by failing to think things through from the customer perspective and designing accordingly.   If  Travelex had required my friends to come up with their own pin for the cash card then it is likely that they would have used a PIN that was memorable to them.

2. The cause of many service failures (and poor customer experience) is often zero empathy for customers as real human beings.  Travelex could have foreseen and adequately catered for two critical scenarios.  First, the customer is on holiday and loses his cash card.  Second, the customer is on holiday and has forgotten her PIN.  What makes these critical?  The customer is likely to be in a foreign country, no friends nearby, uncertain and thus stressed about not having access to their money.  Money that shows up as essential to the well being of the customer.

3. In a digital world, service failures hurt the company as well as the customer.  I know that my friends feel ‘unloved’ and are thinking twice about using cash cards and Travelex, in particular. And here I am sharing their story with the world.  Just this morning my wife avoided seductive sales talk (even though she is keen to buy the service offered) by googling and reading reviews by other customers.  In the digital world you cannot escape your reputation – how you treat your customers.  Your reputation acts like an accelerator for making sales or it acts as a brake – your choice!

4. Solutions are often not hard nor costly.   How difficult is it to allow  cash card customers to get access to their PIN via the website?  I say not difficult at all.  Travelex can provide the required  functionality through its website: customer logs in; security check takes place; customer gets to reset PIN on the card.  That is the basic structure – more sophisticated options can be built in. 

5.  Providing this type of critical functionality can help you attract more customers, make more sales – you show customers that you have thought about them, the worst case scenario and you have the right solution in place.  Thus you deal with the barriers, the skepticism, in the way of customers buying.

6. Call-centres and customer service needs radical rethinking and redesign.  What frustrated my friends the most?  Uncertainty.  “Where am I in the queue?  How long before someone answers my call?   Should I hang up or hold on?  If I hang up then when is the best time to call back?”   What would have worked great?  For the call-centre to have picked up their mobile number and rang them back.   Service is not just about the time it takes to answer a call nor about first time resolution.   Customers are multi-dimensional and context sensitive unlike the Customer Services function which seems to be context blind and two dimensional at best.

7. If calls are being deflected onto the self-service channels then these channels have to be designed for real human beings and they have to work.  I suspect that some companies are deliberately under staffing their call-centres to drive customers to use self-service technologies including the web.   The issue is that websites are often in the hands of the folks that want to do brand marketing or selling.   The service dimension is often not given enough importance, is not seriously grappled with and then acted on.  Furthermore, many companies suck at great self-service design.  Airlines, check-in, selection, electronic boarding cards – example of great self-service design.  Grocery stores and self-service checkouts are great examples of atrocious self-service design/thinking.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

5 thoughts on “Travelex: 7 lessons for service excellence and the customer experience”

  1. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. The gap between the promise and the reality is so big, and so obvious. Companies can’t hide from their gaps anymore. Sorry about your friends. Did they ultimately get it sorted?


  2. Maz,

    I guess your friends aren’t the only ones who have had this problem.

    I also suspect that there are people inside Travelex who realise it is a problem.

    The problem is easy to fix as you rightly point out.

    Unfortunately it isn’t on Travelex’s list of things to do

    And won’t be as long as people keep giving them their custom

    After all, as I am sure one of their senior managers will say… How difficult is it to remember 4 numbers?



  3. Hi Maz,
    What’s clear here is that what has been designed and is being delivered was never seriously tested, if at all, against scenarios about what could go wrong and not how their system would cope but how it would impact on the customer.

    Clear example of inside out thinking. Not good enough.

    Hope your friends got things sorted,



  4. Hi Maz,

    We’re really sorry to hear of your friends’ disappointing experience when taking their prepaid currency card overseas.

    Travelex, like other financial services institutions, issues cardholders with a random and secure PIN number. We know it’s difficult to remember all your various passwords and PIN codes, so you’re able to change to something memorable at most ATMs in the country where you buy the card. If you do happen to forget, you can do this via an automated playback service. This is available under ‘Option 2 – PIN services’ so customers don’t need to hold for a member of the customer services team and should take no more than 2 – 3minutes.

    Our Call Centre service for our prepaid cards is provided by our card programme manager. We work together with this service provider to continuously improve the service we offer customers and have already shared your feedback with them.

    We would like the opportunity to resolve this issue directly with your friends as soon as possible, so please contact us directly at

    Travelex Customer Services


  5. Travelex insurance is absolutely and positively dishonest and it is a waste of money and time to take out travel insurance with Travelex. It gives misleading and dishonest information to their travelers. When flying on American Airlines my flight was cancelled from Barbados to New York because of hurricane Sandy. If you read the policy it states it will give you 100% reimbursement for travel cancellation/interruption etc. But you have to read the fine lines and it only reimburses you US$100.00 not/not 100%…US$100 is not worth it and most of all it’s misleading!!!…especially when you have to pay hotel and taxi fares for your cancelled flight!…Misleading and deceitful …don’t bother it is not worth the trouble to take out travel insurance with Travelex!!!


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