How Sky Failed Me at the Moment of Truth

How companies respond to moments of truth says all there is to say about the company and its orientation towards customers. This is where the talk of customer focus, customer experience, and customer-centricity is actually put to the test by the customer. I have done some work in the telecommunications industry and I can tell you that device or service failure shows up as a moment of truth for many customers. When the customer relies on his phone and it no longer works that is a big deal for her. When the customer relied on his broadband connection and it fails that is big deal for him. Correct?

Yesterday, my broadband connection failed and stayed that way for several hours. I searched through the Sky paperwork to find a customer services number. I didn’t find any as Sky have made a conscious choice not to print that number on their invoices/statements. Instead, the paperwork only shows the URL for the support section of the Sky website. That would have been useful if and only if my broadband was working!

Thankfully, I had a smartphone and Google handy. So within a few minutes I found a contact number and called Sky. A couple of minutes after this I was speaking to friendly woman at Sky.  After 10 – 20 minutes on the phone, answering her questions and following her instructions, she told me that the broadband router was faulty. I was grateful to her as she had been patient and left me with the impression that she was committed to helping me out.

What was my expectation at this point given that I have been a customer for at least two years? I was expecting the woman to say “I will send you a new router and it will be with you tomorrow morning. And, I’m sorry that our router failed and you are without broadband.” That kind of response would have shown up as customer-centric. That kind of response would have generated forgiveness on the one hand and gratitude on the other hand. That kind of response would have left me feeling good about being a Sky customer. That kind of response would have resulted in a different ending to the post.

What actually happened?  The woman from Sky told me that I would have to pay £35 for a new router. Why? Because I was no longer on a twelve month contract. Or I could sign another twelve month contract.

This was the first time that I considered cancelling the Sky broadband service. Why?  Because I was offended. Because it occurred as Sky taking advantage of me when I was down. Because, I asked myself “Where is the loyalty for me sticking with Sky for over two years?”  I calmed myself down and made the choice to enter into a new twelve month agreement.

Once we had come to this agreement, the woman from Sky told me that the router would be delivered within 3 to 5 days.  I was shocked. So I blurted out something like “Is there any way you can get this out to me tomorrow?  Amazon does this. Surely, you can do the same.”  She asked me to hold whilst she looked into it. After looking into it she told me that the best response Sky could offer was 3 – 5 days.  And that she would ring me no Saturday to make sure that my issue was solved.  I thanked her and ended the call.

What is the lesson here? It doesn’t matter how great the people in your call-centres are if your business policies , practices, and processes are not designed to deliver on the customer needs at the moments of truth.

As I reflect on this experience I cannot help but compare how Apple showed up when my daughter had a problem with her iPod.

How much can you rely on the Voice of the Customer?

VoC Customer Experience Vendors Are Doing Well

A significant component of Customer Experience improvement is getting access to the voice of the customer.  A whole software based industry has sprung up to provide access to that voice; according to The Temkin Group customer experience vendors are doing rather well:  A Good Year for Customer Experience Vendors.

How much can you rely on the Voice of the Customer?

Which brings me to a key question: how much can you rely on what the customer tells you?  My experience suggests that you have to be careful with how you interpret and use the voice of the customer. Allow me to illustrate using personal examples.

During the course of writing this blog I have expressed feelings and then made claims as to what I was going to do in the future.  Did I do what I said I would do?  Lets take a look:

So on this sample of one, you can count on the voice of the customer being an accurate guide to customer behaviour (what the customer will do) only one third of the time.

Why have I continued with Sky?

When I wrote what I wrote, I meant it.  Yet when it came around to terminating the two contracts I had with Sky I found myself doing something bizarre: I terminated the SkyTV contract yet continued with the Sky Broadband.  Why is this bizarre?  Because I had a perfect experience with SkyTV.  My issue, my upset had been with Sky Broadband.  Later I signed up for SkyTV again.

So why have I continued with Sky?  Because I made a poor prediction of the future.  Specifically:

  • I had not taken into account the fact that pleasing my family and keeping them happy is more important than getting back at Sky and so I ended up subscribing to SkyTV;
  • I had not realised that a part of me would not welcome the task and emotional issues (risk of it going wrong) associated with switching my broadband to a new supplier;
  • That Sky would make me an offer that was so financially attractive that it just made good sense to take it up.

Why have I continued with Ascot Chiropractic Clinic?

First, convenience.  I did not switch because it was too inconvenient to visit the Harrsion Clinic: it is out of the way whereas the Ascot Clinic is practically next door.

Second, the hassle involved in switching.  The fact is that my chiropractor had been working with me for over six months and had got to know my body, my condition, really well.  As such I did not want to have to start all over with a new chiropractor.

Why did I terminate the British Gas Homecare Agreement?

Compare to the Clinic and Sky I found it easy to terminate the British Gas Homecare Agreement.  Why?  First, the decision was entirely up to me and so I did not have to convince anyone else.  Second, it was easy to find a new supplier.

What are the lessons to be learned

The voice of the customer will give you access to what specific customer like about you or do not like about you. It will give you insight into which of your touchpoints, processes, products and services are not working for your customers and how they are falling short.  And which are working well and leaving customers delighted.

The voice of the customer is not necessarily a good guide to what specific customers will do in the future.  The fact is that we are really poor at predicting what we will do in the future.  This has been shown time and again through studies.  This is a subject I intend to explore in the future.

Do you care about your customers? Suzanne from Sky does and that I why I love her!

Background

BSkyB is the dominant pay TV company in the UK and is more commonly known simply as Sky.  Over the recent years Sky has expanded into broadband and fixed line telephony; to use the broadband service you have to get your router from Sky.

Back in December 2009 I signed-up for the triple play (TV, broadband, telephony) with Sky on the basis that this would make my life easier.  After a promising start things went downhill fast and I wrote about that in this post: “How to convert an advocate into a detractor – a personal experience”

By December 2010 I had a much kinder, more understanding, perspective on my Sky experience and I wrote about it in the following post:  “The value of transparency or why I am no longer mad at BSkyB” As a result of this change in attitude, pressure from my children and an attractive retention offer from Sky I decided to continue to be a customer.  And everything was going well until Tuesday 6th April when my broadband router stopped working.

I contact Sky Customer Services and find my competence being questioned

On Tuesday morning I found that I did not have access to the Internet so I went to check the router.  I found that the on/off switch had developed a fault: it only worked if I kept it pushed in with my finger.  So I decided to phone Sky Customer Services to get a replacement router.

Once I found the Customer Service number (no easy task as none of the statements have a contact number on them) and navigated through the IVR, I was greeted by a friendly female voice.  I explained the problem with the existing router and asked for a replacement.

To my surprise the CSA asked if I was sure that the on/off switch was not working.  I found myself feeling offended and replied that I was 40+ years old, knew what I was doing and if I said that the on/off switch was faulty she could take my word for it.  Why did I become offended?  Because it occurred to me that the CSA was questioning my competence.   

Company policy takes precedence over doing right by the customer and cultivating loyalty

Once we agreed that a new router was needed, the CSA told me that it would cost me £28. I questioned why I had to pay this cost given that I could cancel my broadband contract (as the twelve month period had already expired), sign-up as a new customer, pay the same monthly charge, and get the router free of charge.

The CSA’s response was that it was simply Sky policy to make existing customers pay for replacement routers.  And that if I did cancel my contract and signed up as a new customer I would not get the router free of charge.  No matter what I said the CSA did not budge: she simply insisted that it was company policy.  When I asked about the rationale behind the policy, she did not explain.  When I asked her to put me through to the Retentions team she told me that she did not know if one existed. In the end, I agreed to pay the £28 as I felt I had no choice.

Amazon can guarantee next day delivery, Sky can only state that it is likely to take 3 – 5 days

Once I had provided my credit card details, the CSA told me that it would take 3-5 days to get the router to me.  I was astonished:  Amazon can and have got books to me the next day (guaranteed delivery) and Sky can only promise 3 – 5 days! I think I simply said “3-5 days!”.  The CSA responded by telling me that I could track the status of the router via the website.  My response was that I had no interest in tracking the router, I simply needed it delivered asap; allowing me to track the router deflects calls into customer services but it does not help me to get my router on time!

Sky does not keep its first promise which makes me wonder about the second one

I then asked the CSA if it was possible to speak to her manager – not about her but about the Sky policy including the delivery time.  The CSA was helpful. She went to look for her manager, found her to be in a meeting, took down a contact number for me and told me that her manager would ring back between 9:45 and 10:15.  No-one rang back.

How am I feeling at this point?  Truth be told, I am cursing my family for wanting SkyTV and persuading me to continue with Sky; I am cursing myself for my stupidity in continuing to do business with Sky.  And I start thinking about how to bring my dependence on Sky to an end because it is clear to me that Sky does not care about its customers and cannot be counted on to deliver on its promises.  Will Sky deliver the router in the promised 3 – 5 days?

Wednesday 7th April, around 7pm Suzanne from Sky ‘calls into my life’

At around 7pm on Wednesday 7th April I got a call from Sky and found myself speaking with Suzanne.  She asks me how I am and I ask her how she is.  I am pleasantly surprised by her refreshing honesty: she tells me that she is well and will be even better when it is 9pm and she can go home.  Wow, I am speaking to a real human being!  I like her already.

Suzanne then runs through the SkyTV package.  She compliments my choices and asks me what I watch.  I tell her that the SkyTV is mainly for my children and list their favourite shows.  After listening, Suzanne brings the conversation back to me and asks if I watch anything at all.  I tell her and she replies that she likes one of the shows that I like.  I feel comfortable talking with Suzanne – she occurs as genuine and actually interested in me.

Next, Suzanne runs through the services I have and tells me that she can save me £2.50 a month on the broadband if I sign up to another 12 month contract.  I reply that no amount of money would entice me to commit to another 12 months with Sky. I say that whilst SkyTV is great, the rest of Sky particularly the broadband bit is absolutely terrible.  Furthermore, I say that I simply have no confidence in Sky as a brand: I just do not trust Sky to treat me fairly, to look after me as a customer. Then I relay my previous days broadband router replacement experience.

How I fell in love with Suzanne and she changed my mind about Sky

All the while I was talking and sharing my frustration and disappointment, Suzanne listened – she stopped selling and simply listened.  She did not argue with me, try to refute my experience or to change my mind.  She simply said that she understood how I was feeling and could understood why I would not want to do business with Sky.  Then she asked me to hold on for a moment. 

She came back and told me that she was going to refund the £28 I had paid for the router – no strings attached – as a gesture of goodwill. At this point I found myself reluctant to take up her offer as I did not want to ‘owe Sky anything’ – that is how much I loathed Sky!  Yet, I found a moral pressure to grant her request: she had treated me with respect and it was now my turn to reciprocate – so I gave her my credit card details.  Then she surprised me again.

Suzanne asked for my patience explaining that she had asked her manager to do the refund. Why?  Because Suzanne does not do refunds – it is not part of her role and she does not have the authority.  I totally get that Suzanne has gone out of her way to help me!  She did not have to do it, she could simply have wished me well and left it at that when I refused her broadband pitch.  And I am grateful to Suzanne and I tell her that.  I even tell her that she single-handedly (with the help of her understanding manager) has changed my perception and feelings towards Sky.

The lessons

When it comes to delivering a memorable customer experience and cultivating loyalty there is absolutely no substitution for caring for your customers. And caring for customers comes down to employing people like Suzanne (and her manager) and allowing them the leeway to be great – to take the right actions, actions that build gratitude.  Why?  Because gratitude leads to loyalty.

A friendly CSA following the script (as set out in the Quality manual) and adhering company policies is not always enough.  It is necessary to take the customer’s individual circumstances into account. In human affairs fairness and helpfulness are critical needs.  Violate these  rules and you almost guarantee losing the customer.  For example, The first CSA I dealt with did everything by the book and was friendly throughout.  Nonetheless, she left me feeling that she was a prisoner of Sky’s unfriendly customer policies and practices and so she was unable to help me with my problem.

Company policies and practices are some of the biggest obstacles towards delivering memorable customer experiences and cultivating loyalty. Take a good hard look at your policies and practices.  Are they fair?  Do they meet customer needs?  Do they get the balance right between trusting customers and being taken for a ride?  Do they balance the long-term against the short-term focus?  Do they help or hinder your staff from delivering great service and establishing an emotional connection with your customers?

Make sure that your people who interact with customers are in a position to explain each and every single policy that impacts the customer in a way that occurs as reasonable in the customer’s world. For example: why does it take 3 – 5 days to get a broadband router when many companies can do next day delivery?  Or why do Sky customers have to use routers supplied by Sky?  Why can’t I use one of the three routers I have sitting at home?

PS: I have only been able to write and upload this post because I figured out a way of making the existing router work: glue, dice and tape to keep the on/off button pressed in – take a look at the photo below.  Lets hope the replacement router arrives before this solutions gives way!

Who says you have to be customer centric to thrive?

Is it feasible that companies are not customer centred because it is possible to thrive without being customer centric?  Before you dismiss this out of hand consider the following examples.

Mary Portas: Secret Shopper – last nights episode on the furniture industry

On Wednesday I watched the tv program Mary Portas: Secret Shopper which took a look at the furniture retailing category and found that it was anything but customer centric.

The marketing across the category is either misleading or downright deceptive.   There is one kind of sale or another on almost around the year.  The discounted prices on the furniture are nothing of the kind.  And the price guarantees are absolutely worthless because the retailers know that it is simply not possible for the customer to buy the same product from another retailer.

The focus of the sales staff is selling irrespective of whether the furniture meets the needs of the customers.  The sales folks even convinced themselves that they were customer centric when it was blatantly clear that they simply did not get what it means to be customer centric: to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and thus help the customer to make smart purchasing choices that they will be happy with – no buyers remorse when they got home. In fact it can be argued that the sales folks were doing rather well by not being customer centric: one of them claimed to have earned £57,000 in commission just through standard selling.

Management simply wrote off the people who felt aggrieved about poor quality of the furniture and the poor customer service.  Yet despite the negative reviews on the internet on CSL (the furniture retailer featured on Mary Portas: Secret Shopper) I do not see it closing down because customers are running to its competitors.  Why is that?

Because all the furniture retailers are at it.  They are all misleading customers with their marketing and price promises.  They are all getting customers to buy whatever makes the most commission for the sales folks.  And they are all offering poor customer service.  I believe that I wrote about how easy it is to become customer centric by disrupting category practices

Tesco comes 8th in the latest Which? customer satisfaction survey

Tesco is the UKs most successful supermarket brand.  You might then assume that it would rank highly in any customer satisfaction survey.  Well Which? polled 12,000 consumers and placed Tesco 8th with a customer satisfaction rating of 48%.  Aldi scored 65%, Lidl scored 64%, Morrisons scored 59%.  You can find the full details here.

Does this mean that you can thrive without being customer centric?  Or does it mean that there is little or no correlation between customer satisfaction and financial success?  Perhaps it means that the Which? survey is flawed.  You decide.

BSkyB goes from strength to strength

As far as I am aware BSkyB is not a brand that is loved by consumers.  My own experience of dealing with BSkyB was less than positive.  And yet BSkyB keeps going from strength to strength.  Recently it announced that at the end of 2010 it had over 10m customers (thus hitting one of the key targets) and half-year profits were up 26% on last year.

Is it possible that BSkyB is thriving because it has an effective monopoly on pay tv?  So if you want what Sky has then you have to go and buy it from Sky.  That is to say that BSkyB owns strategic assets that allow it to deliver less than great customer service.  I believe I wrote a post on the value of strategic assets.

Is it because it has branched into adjacent areas: telephony and broadband?  Is it because it offers bundles (pay tv, telephony, broadband) that other players find hard to match?

Or am I wrong and BSkyB is a great example of a customer centric organisation?

TalkTalk continues to be the second largest broadband provider.

TalkTalk is the UKs second largest broadband provider.  The negative reviews posted on this company by customers are legion.  It is a company that was investigated twice by Ofcom (the industry regulator) last year as a result of customer complaints.   And Ofcom found it guilty of breaching telecoms regulations when it charged customers for cancelled services.

If customers are so dissatisfied then why is it that TalkTalk has not collapsed?  Or at least shrivelled significantly?

Is it because they are locked into existing contracts?  Or is it because far too many customers simply are not willing to go through the inconvenience of switching broadband suppliers because they consider them to be pretty much the same.  Does this remind you of the furniture retailing example that I started this post with?