7 lessons in service design

Category practice and company policies matter yet they are not enough

More than once I have advocated that companies must change category practices and company policies so that these take into account the needs/wants of customers.  Put differently, each category practice and company policies should be listed and then examined in terms of impact on the customer.  Does this practice / policy create benefits or costs for the customer?  How can we increase the benefit and reduce costs?  By ‘costs’ I mean costs in terms of effort, convenience, price, cost of ownership etc.  However that is not enough: you have to purposefully design processes that support these practices and policies by delivering the right customer experience

Right policy, poor process, customer experience

Is it possible to put in place a policy that is designed to protect your customers and yet have a process that ends up irritating your customers?  Yes, it is common – allow me to share my story with you.

Recently I wrote about how hard it was for me to move money from one account to another.  If you read that post then you will know that by thumbing through my file I was able to find my e-banking ID and thus transfer a large sum of money (around £50k) from a savings account to my current account.  Once this money ended up in my current account I needed to move it to its end destination: my sister’s account.  So I logged into my e-banking account and attempted the transfer.  I was not expecting any problem yet I met one.  The system would not let me: I simply got a message on the screen telling me that I had exceeded the withdrawal limit.  No other information was provided e.g. what the withdrawal limit is or who exactly to call and which number to call.

So I called Customer Services number and ended up talking to a customer services agent.  He took me through all the usual security checks.  When I told him of my issue he started asking me all kinds of questions – questions that only someone who is the account holder and has access to the bank statements can answer.  Once he was confident that I was the person who I was claiming, he told me that he could not help me.  He was powerless: he had to get  hold of the specialist team and get them to authorise the transfer.  So he took the details of my sister’s account and verified those with me, patiently, to make sure that he had the correct details.  Then he got on the line to the specialist team.  After waiting some 10+ minutes he told me that he could not help me because this specialist team had clocked off at 9pm and were not available.  He apologised and told me that he had entered all my details into the system and asked me to ring in the next day. On hanging up I noticed that I had been on the phone for 30+ minutes.

The next day I rang Customer Services and went through exactly the same drill.  I had to replay almost word for word the conversation that I had the previous day – this CSA claimed that the previous CSA had not left any record of the previous conversation.  Finally, he hit the phone to speak to the specialist team.  After about 5 – 10 minutes he came back and told me that the specialist team had declined to do the transfer and that  should go to the local branch.  When I asked why he simply told me that the specialist team had told him that it looked suspicious.  I was not at all happy yet the rational part of me understood that the bank was indirectly acting in my interest.  Looking at my watch I noticed that I had been on the phone for 20+ minutes.

Then I headed to the local branch and made my request for the fourth time. The cashier was polite and helpful.  She took copies of various personal documents and told me that it was going to take some time. In total I had spent another 30+minutes in the branch.  And when I left I resolved to move to another bank which I fully intend to do.

So whilst I totally get that Santander’s policy of being prudent and preventing fraud is commendable I cannot help but think and feel that their process is a poor one. I’d go further and say that Santander does not have a process for the kind of scenario that I faced:  I cannot believe that any sane person would have designed the process to be this wasteful.

7 lessons in service design

Communicate the need for / benefits of the policy to the customer.  At no time did anyone at Santander explain why I was not able to withdraw money via e-banking or via telephone.  No-one told me that they were doing this to ensure that a fraud was not taking place.  Or that this policy was necessary to comply with money laundering legislation.   If Santander had done this then I would have been more understanding: most of us are reasonable human beings and allow organisations leeway when we know they are acting in our interest or having to comply with the law.

Take ownership of the customer problem.  No-one at Santander took ownership of my problem: the e-banking folks did not; the Customer Service folks did not; the ‘specialist team’ did not – they did not even speak to me.  The cashier had to take ownership of my problem because I was there right in front of her and the rest of the Santander system had ‘let me down’.    All the way through the process I felt that I was ‘battling my way through Santander’ to get something done that mattered to me and Santander were simply indifferent to my plight.

Take the opportunity to educate the customer.  When I headed to the local branch I assumed that I would need several identity papers, bank statements etc.  No-one at Santander took the time to tell me what exactly I would need.  Nor did anyone educate me for the next time e.g. “Next time you decide to move a large sum of money then it is best to do …….. and avoid ………”

Strive to solve the problem where it starts.  At the e-banking stage (when my transfer was declined) Santander could have provided me with a chat facility and directed to the specialist team.  Or Santander could have simply told me to go the branch.  Either of these approached would have cut out wasted time and effort on the phone to Customer Services who simply are not in a position to help.

Put the right people in touch with the customer.  What value did the Customer Services agents add?  None.  When it comes to complex processes that require specialists these agents are simply non-value added relays.  Furthermore they are likely to make mistakes.   The implication is that once you have identified that the case is complex then the call should be routed directly to the specialist team to take care of.  First line, second line and third line thinking is deeply flawed especially as customers are taking care of the easy stuff themselves via self-service and so the demand that falls on contact centres tends to be the more complex stuff which requires specialists.

Design your process to minimise cycle-time.  If you want to compete on the customer experience then you should design your processes to minimise the customer’s cycle time – from need to resolution.  A focus on cycle time will force you to deal with activities and hand-offs that eat the customer’s time.

In complex organisation x-functional co-ordination is required.  When you let various teams within the organisation do their stuff then they will do what is in their best interests.  The result is that the end to end process is likely to be wasteful for the organisation and for the customer.  Furthermore, the waste will typically end up downstream usually in Customer Services or the retail branches.  The only way to get around this issue is to look at processes from end to end (customer perspective) and that means cross functional co-ordination.  If no-one else is playing that role then the Customer Experience team should take on that role.

And finally

CRM systems constituting the ‘organisational memory’ sound excellent.  In practice they are pretty much useless as organisational memory. Why?  Because of the way the real world works. What do I mean?

First, the CSA’s have only so much time to handle and wrap up calls.  That means they end up inputting the bare minimum into the systems.  And usually that bare minimum is not that useful.  If you don’t believe me then go and work in call centres for a little while and see with your own eyes how things work.  Second, the more complex the call the more useless the CRM system is.  Why?  Because it simply takes too long for a CSA to read through the history.  In that situation it is much quicker for both parties if the customer spells out the situation.  So that is another bit of the ‘sales story’ around CRM systems that does not hold up in the real world.

What you can learn from my Santander experience

I urgently needed to move money from one Santander account to another Santander account

Last week I needed to withdraw some money from my mortgage account and move it into my current account.  It should have been an easy process as I have done it many times.  Yet, I met a problem: I had forgotten my e-banking login details as I had not logged into my mortgage account for a couple of years.  As this was something I needed to do urgently – on that day – I rang Santander Customer Services.

Santander Customer Services didn’t provide the service

I got through to Customer Services pretty quickly and came face to face with the IVR.  Thankfully it was easy to grasp.  I selected the right option and pretty soon I was through to a female customer services agent who dived into the security check: date of birth, postcode, mortgage account no, monthly payments…… Once she had verified all that she needed to verify she asked me how she could help me.  I told her that she could help me by transferring money from my Santander mortgage account to my Santander current account.   I expected that she would say “No problem.”  She didn’t: she told me that I had to send in a letter requesting this transfer.

“How is it that I can and have made these transfers through e-banking and yet you cannot do this for me over the telephone?”  That was my question.  She told me that it was company policy.  She did not explain why it was company policy; I could have told her that company policy was stupid but didn’t after all she is simply an insignificant little cog in a huge machine who simply follows orders.

“Can you please put me through to someone who can help me recover my e-banking login ID so that I can make this transfer through e-banking?”  There was a pause along with a flat, emotionless, “Yes”.  I took that to mean yes I will do that but it is really not my job to help your figure this out.  Instead of being transferred to the right team she told me that I had to ring the e-commerce team and gave me their phone number.

IVR is the most hated customer touchpoint and I get to experience why that is

Well I rang the ‘e-commerce’ team no and was faced with the IVR.  I listened to this once, listened to it twice and then I listened to it a third time.  There were several options but not one that was relevant to my needs.  I tried to get out of the IVR and get through to human being and found that I could not: the same useless options ended up being relayed again and again!  Frustrated, I hung up.

Eventually I solve my service need through e-banking

I really needed to move that money so I dived into my banking file meticulously and eventually found my login ID.  It took me about 30 seconds to log in and then another 2 minutes to complete the transfer.  Thank the heavens for e-banking!  No wonder e-banking is so popular in the UK: it allows us to bypass the indifference and incompetence of the big UK banks.  Maybe I am being harsh.  The system has probably been deliberately designed this way so as to influence customers (like me) to self-serve through e-banking.

What you can learn from my experience

Companies don’t care about customers they care about competitors. The British banks act as an oligopoly doing business exactly the same way: each  delivers lousy customer service as it is not necessary to do better.  Customers know this and continue to stick with the bank they now bank with; I will continue banking with Santander.  The banks will only change their behaviour when a viable competitor enters who has no investment in the existing way of doing business.  If you look closely at other industries you will find that many of the companies embracing ‘customer experience’ are doing so because of the competition in their industry / marketplace.

If you want to improve the customer experience then start with company policies.   Company policies are like the rules of chess: change the rules and you change the game.  If you take a good hard look at your company policies you are likely to find that they are not customer friendly:  they are one of the biggest obstacles to designing and delivering attractive customer experiences.

Your customer facing staff should explain company policies in the right way.  If you are going to have policies that cause ‘pain’ for your customers than you have to train your staff to explain these policies in a way that makes sense to your customers.  What is the direct/indirect benefit to the customer of this policy?  This is something that you have to think through and explain to the customer.

IVRs can be a blessing or a curse.  Well designed IVRs are a blessing because your customers does not have to wait a long time to get to a human being.  And using human beings to route ‘calls’ is not the best way to use human beings.  However, too many IVRs are poorly designed from a customer viewpoint.  If you are putting in an IVR make sure that it is thoroughly tested before it is implemented to take account of all the scenarios. What mechanism do you have in place to figure out which IVRs are badly designed?

People have higher standards of people than technology.  Technology is either easy to use or it is not.  Technology works or it does not work.  Technology is not personal – it does not leave us feeling invalidated and offended.  We do not expect technology to ‘own and solve our problem’.  When it comes to people it is the opposite.  We recognise that people are human and they make mistakes:  we can and do forgive mistakes.  We do not tend to forgive people who are indifferent to us and our ‘pain’.  If people do not treat us the way that we expect people to treat us then we get upset.  And then we look for another supplier.