Monday, April 29, 2013

Are brands fully channel agnostic ?

A key principle of multi channel (or cross channel as I prefer to call it) has to about being Channel Agnostic. The question is, are big brands achieving this ? Certainly from my own personal experience there is work to do.

When buying my iPhone, I did the rounds looking at all the providers and  I had a pretty strong idea of who I wanted to switch to and when it came to wanting to buy my shiny new phone it wasn't straight forward. I have already covered the bizarre chat experiences I had in this post, but this is more about the online ordering journey.

Having finally made my decision, I went online to place my order. The initial navigation on the mobile provider's site was great, one page to sort out which model I wanted, choose tariff and declare I was a new customer. I quite like these longer pages where you can scroll down and get a lot of things done before a new page is served.

This is where I got confused, all I wanted to do was order, I knew it may take a while to receive my order as the phone had only recently launched, but that was fine by me. All there was in this long page was a check stock button, this confused me, I wanted to order. Being stupid, I assumed that this was not a checkout or order button, but that is all there was. Having looked through the entire page for a link or something which would get me where I wanted to be, I finally gave up and clicked it. No surprise then when the site told me my chosen phone was out of stock, which I had kind of expected. The page giving me the news had no other action, so essentially I had stalled. Why couldn't the page have checked the stock for me and proposed an action that would suit me ? This also raises for me the issue about what label you put on a button, surely common sense and convention would dictate something more obvious? Ok, I accept I was being unbelievably stupid, but isn't that the point of usability and web design, test and design for different personas ?

To try and complete my order I then visited my local Carphone Warehouse. They explained that if I ordered, I would be billed from the moment I signed up i.e. there was no way to order without being penalised.

I then tried an apple store (out of stock and no ordering) and finally the mobile provider's store who had stock but it took precisely and hour to wait and then finally sign up. It was therefore luck that I placed my order with the mobile provider I had chosen (presumably they get a half decent margin from the device), but I displayed no supplier loyalty in trying to achieve my task. If someone had let me order, I would have.

It is widely known that iPhones are oversubscribed on launch, isn't it at all possible to have some simple processes to allow people to order ? If it is known that the phone may well be out of stock, why do you need a check stock button on the web site? Most retail stores deal with this very effectively. As it was the providers cost per acquisition was unnecessarily high and it wasn't really a multi channel experience. How hard would it have been for any of these companies to create a back order process?

The experience got me thinking, along the lines of .... if one of your customer service advisors treated a customer like your web site does, you wouldn't be happy with them.  Which brings to mind one of the multi channel principles to mind - "Channel Agnostic" i.e. each channel should provide the same service as any other (within the capability of that channel). As it was I had to visit a store to get the job done, when my channel of choice was online.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Do big brands really get Multi Channel?

I have my doubts.

I have recently changed mobile provider and TV/broadband provider and the customer experience was both fascinating and frustrating. I took me ages to to finally buy so it would be interesting to see how each brand measured the ultimate result, but I doubt most major brands can combine the data effectively enough for insight - but that's another topic. What this post is about is how poorly big brands are using smart technology in the digital domain causing additional contact through more expensive channels while annoying customers.

Web chat

Web chat is pretty common across all big telcos and TV/broadband providers. I am a big fan of web chat and also work on web chat programmes as part of my day job. But there are things that wind me up as a customer and also professionally. Here is a taste.

Issue 1 - setting up chat for sales only

This is a pretty typical practice, the results are very compelling with up to 20% increase in orders, almost a no-brainer proposition. Often the brand's stakeholders within sales are different from those in customer service so this decision is often taken in isolation.

The problem is this, web chat succeeds by proactively inviting people to chat, if the person who accepts the chat actually needs customer service, the usual response is "sorry please ring customer services". As a customer experience this is truly awful, and commercially the brand has increased the cost per touch by 200%. How simple would it be to implement chat customer service at the same time, so the chat sales person can transfer the customer to customer services ? Not that hard really. And when you measure the customer satisfaction increases and cost benefits of chat for customer services over channels like email, I am constantly amazed that it isn't implemented.

Issue 2 - passing the buck

When hunting for a mobile phone, I came across another web chat faux pas, this time a sales one. All I needed was to understand the details of the tariff which I could not find on the website, I hunted, I googled and when one provider gave full details, I expected to find the same on my chosen provider, no such luck.

Ah phew, up pops a chat invite. All I asked for was the URL of the tariff details. One would have thought this would be a much used item and probably easily at hand in the chat operators canned statements, err no. What happened next ?...... The chat operator suggested I visit the nearest store. Amazing!

Customer experience wise this is ten times worse than asking me to call and the cost to the brand is a  massive increase when comparing a chat contact with a face to face meeting. As it was I did visit the store so the cost per acquisition for my sale was pretty poor compared with online and chat.

In truth that could have been avoided by making sure the web site had the information, but that is a topic for another post.

Issue 3- inappropriate sales techniques

When chosing my broadband and TV provider, I knew what I wanted as it is very simple to configure your options online, but I had some questions. This time I clicked the chat button instead of waiting for an invite.

Boy did I get the heavy sales treatment. It ended up with the operator making a now or never sales offer. Despite my real protestations that I needed to discuss it with my wife, the chat operator wouldn't listen, it was now or never. When I questioned whether this (now or never) was really the case, as it was plainly obvious that the deal was available online (and probably through the contact centre), the advisor lied and continued to try and close a deal. Trust gone, no way in hell I would buy from this shyster. Simple solution, I phoned the contact centre and had a very pleasant sign up experience - with the same deal. So the brand's cost per acquisition increased and if this is happening for a lot of customers,  it could represent considerable amount of wasted cost.

Solving these issues is just common sense.

  • Implementing chat for customer service is a clear win-win if done properly - see 
  • Training advisors properly so they can answer product queries and behave appropriately is basic stuff. Additionally chat transcripts provide excellent insight to improve advisor skills, where needed. It is easier to quality assure and perform root cause analysis on chat than it is on voice and you can study more chats than phone calls in the same time.
  • The harder one is to combine data from all channels. As my identity was known by my email address across all of them - the brands should be able to detect the flow of my journey and the failings of certain channels. I doubt this has been achieved. In a multi channel world a single customer view is pretty critical to achieve this level of insight.