The other day I was on the phone with my insurance company because they had rejected, for a second time, a procedure for my son which was performed by a physician who they claimed was "out of network" -- let's call him Dr. Brown. But, as I logged into the firm's web-site (again), I was able to easily find Dr. Brown who was "in network". As I had done a few weeks before, I mentioned this to the customer service representative, and she was not able to look at the web site from her computer, so I had to read her the name, address, and phone number so that she could contact him and make sure that he was "in network". I'm hopeful that I won't have to provide the screen reading service a third time and if I had not spent time as a customer service representative myself, I might have been a bit more testy.
Certainly this is a scene into which Joseph Heller might have put Captain John Joseph Yossarian, the protagonist of Catch-22. To me the interesting question is: how do we get here? For this, I offer 5 things that cause ridiculous customer experiences:
- Mergers. Often, when firms combine the poor customer service representative has to jump back and forth between two or more systems to answer customers' needs. Many years ago when I was researching the speciality chemical division of duPont, the customer service representative routinely had to interact with over a dozen screens to service a typical customer;
- Siloed organizations. I'm sure in my insurance experience above, the people who handle the physician network are in a different organization than those who handle claims - exacerbating the chance of a missed hand-off;
- Permanently delayed integration. In many organizations there is a significant amount of "waxy buildup" of business processes and systems. I was performing research at a leading insurance company which was, at one time many decades ago, the market leader in integrated customer information. However, they failed to reinvest and after the slow accretion of years of new products and services their customer experience was largely disintegrated. It got so bad that long standing customers would get duplicative sales calls from different parts of the organization, and one group did not know what the other was doing!
- Poor incentives. Often those who touch the customer are motivated in very different ways. Sales is driven by volume, and to some extent margin. Service by efficiency. Claims by how little you can pay out. Only the customer sees these multiple personalities -- hurting service.
- Lack of leadership. It is hard to make long term, transformational investments that improve the customer's experience. In my absurd experience chronicled above, I'm sure someone in that organization has raised the issue time and time again, but there has not been the coherent, driven, leadership needed to fix the problem.
So, have you lived through the experience your organization creates for your customers? If not, you should give it a try as you may be surprised by what you find!
Other potential useful articles include:
- Staple Yourself to an Order (My HBR Article with Ben Shapiro and Kashturi Rangan)
- Better Customer Service Through Transparency, Tribes and Talent (My HBR blog post).