Tag Archives: bad customer service

Add Constraints to Processes Carefully

Take great care in adding constraints to processes to avoid doing so needlessly.

Online you will frequently find forms that have required fields that needn’t be. Certainly if you were designing with focus on what is best for customers those requirements rarely make sense. Occasionally a required field is a sensible constraint on an online form but so often they add unnecessary constraints.

I frequently find those forms even requiring a false answer since a response is required and none of the options are true. Often this is because the organization is thinking of the boxes they expect users to fit themselves into rather than thinking how to create the best user experience.

I wrote previously about a company representative that suggested a customer change their name because the computer system didn’t accept names with 2 characters. Constraints on creating a secure password are a frequent failure of web sites for the last 10 years.

Man without arms denied housing loan due to inability to provide fingerprints

because Wu Jianping has no arms, creditors claimed they could not give him a loan since he was unable to be fingerprinted.

After the case was publicized and there was a great deal of negative publicity on social media the banks modified their process and approved the loan. But your organization shouldn’t have as the mistake-proofing (obviously not mistake-proofing at all) that when the process doesn’t quite work well then rely on a massive social media outcry which is a signal to us to straighten out the issue.

Frequently I see unnecessary constraints creating the edge case excuse. By burdening your process with unnecessary constraints you create edge cases that fail and then use the excuse that each of the edge cases is rare and therefore you can’t justify the expense of fixing them.

But if you designed the process sensibly in the first place the edge case never would have failed and you wouldn’t need special work arounds for such “edge cases.” A simple example of this is unnecessarily complex web page code that fails if to submit a button without javascript. Yes, a small number of users won’t have enabled all javascript to run (today anyway) so it is an “edge case” to deal with if you don’t have the form work without javascript. But there is no decent reason to have it fail in most cases.

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Support Theatre

Support theatre provides the appearance of supporting customers when in fact it is just treating customers poorly based on a management system that disrespects customers. It is a similar idea to security theatre that has become so popular for government in the USA for the last 10 years.

Dilbert does a good job of illustrating “support theatre” in this webcast:

I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. This is not some accident. Management has designed systems with the attitude that customer’s time doesn’t matter.

Companies that practices support theatre are usually very focused on cutting the company’s cost and not “wasting” the companies time fixing the problems they create for customers or even helping customers put on “band-aids” to cope with the injuries the company has inflicted on the customer. Those companies also don’t learn from their failures to improve and stop future customers from suffering the consequences of their poor processes.

It is painful to interact with such companies. I find that most large companies I am forced to interact with are deeply into support theatre and only very superficially concerned with customers. It is a shame that the type of customer focus that those interested in management improvement have been advocating for decades is ignored by so many companies today.

If you care about your customers and want to build an organization that prospers by delighting customers go to the customer (user) gemba. Focus on how to improve the customer experience. You likely will have many easy opportunities to improve how things operate since the experience for customers today is often so bad.

Related: Making Life Difficult for CustomersPracticing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at AppleCustomer Service is Important (2006)Simple Customer Care Strategy: CommunicateUse Urls, Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z InstructionsHow to protect yourself from your credit card companyVerizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites Man (2008)Is Poor Service the Industry Standard? (2006)Incredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple

Mistake proofing is a wonderful management concept. Design systems not just to be effective when everything goes right but designing them so mistakes are prevented.

I have had several bad customer experiences in the short time I have had my iPad mini. One of the most pitiful is caused by mistake-promoting process design. As the name implies that isn’t a good idea. Mistake-proofing processes is a good practice to strive for; processes that create extra opportunities for failure impacting customers negatively are a bad idea.

My experience below is but one mistake-promoting practice that has caught me in its grips in the short time I have owned my iPad mini. I want to view books on the mini but can’t find any book reader. So I decide, fine I’ll just install the Kindle reader app.

I go to do so (run into additional issues but get through them) and then Apple decides for this free app, on an iPad I just bought with my credit card a week ago, to block me from getting what I need and force me to revalidate my credit card. This is lame enough, but I am used to companies not caring about the customer experience, so fine, what hoops does Apple want to force me through?

But guess what, the unnecessary steps Apple decided to force me through are broken so I can’t just waste my time to make them happy. No. They have created a failure point where they never should have forced the customer in the first place.

So they not only didn’t mistake-proof the process they mistake-promoted the process by creating a unnecessary step that created an error that could have been avoided if they cared about mistake proofing. But instead they use a mistake-promoting process. As a consumer it is annoying enough to cope with the failures companies force me through due to bad management systems that don’t mistake proof processes.

Companies creating extra opportunities to foist mistakes onto customers is really something we shouldn’t have to put up with. And when they then provide lousy and then even incomprehensible “support” such the “change your name” vision Apple decided to provide me now it is time to move on.

After 5 years of buying every computing device from Apple, they have lost my entire good will in one week of mess ups one after the other. I knew the reason I moved to Apple, the exceptional Macbook Air, was no longer the unmatched hardware it once was; but I was satisfied and was willing to pay a huge iPad premium to avoid the typical junk most companies foist on you. But with Apple choosing to make the process as bad as everyone else there isn’t a decent reason to pay them a huge premium.

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Bad Weather is Part of the Transportation System

The job of managers is to create a robust system that delivers value to customers. A system that fails constantly (fails during the continual variation the system faces) is a failed system. Bad weather is part of the variation airlines face. Any management system has to cope with the variation that it faces. The management system must be designed and managed so that the organization successfully delivers value to customers under the conditions the organization will face.

The air travel system in the USA is a disgrace for so many reasons it is hard to catalogue them all. One, of many, is how fragile the system is; causing massive (nation-wide) customer harm multiple times a year due to weather. Weather is sometimes bad. If your organization fails when there is bad weather, fix that problem (make your system robust in the face of bad weather), because you are not going to be able to fix the weather to let your un-robust system be effective as it is.

Instead airlines only response seems to be to get their friends in government to approve anti-competitive mergers to eliminate competition and allow failed organizations to become even larger and harm even more people. Airlines should design robust systems that work in the environment they will face (which they don’t do now).

Their planes don’t fall out the sky when they face bad weather. The engineers behind designing planes have made them very robust. Pilots have been trained to handle variation they will face. And yes, the system has been designed with adjustments to avoid flying into conditions that are risky.

The safety of the air transportation system is very good. The management of airlines in most every other aspect is pitiful, and has been for decades.

The managers running the airlines have done amazingly bad job of creating robust organizations capable of delivering given the variation they know they will face (weather, mechanical problems, IT problems, etc.) for decades. Poor management is the cause of these failures that result in harm to customers. Weather is not the cause. Poor management, over decades, resulting in incredible fragile systems that constantly punish customers is the responsibility of the airlines. And they have done an incredibly bad job at creating a robust system to deliver value to customers.

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Simple Customer Care: Communicate

Some management issues are hard. You are often balancing priorities. Sometimes though it is extremely simple: either you have concern for customers and take actions to back that up or you have some concern but don’t do anything about it.

Here are some examples that show you really just don’t care.

If you have invested millions in setting up computer systems to authorize, and reject, payments for say a credit card and you fail to notify customers when you reject a charge you just really don’t care. There might have been an excuse 10 years ago that it was too difficult to notify people. Today if your IT people can’t do that, hire a new CIO and have them create an IT support system that isn’t an embarrassment to any institution relying on it.

Another sign of an extremely weak IT and customer focus presence in an organization would be deleting records of your customers after 6 month or 1 year or ever. Again this is common among the too-big-to-fail financial institutions that seem much more able to design system to extract fees and justify ludicrous bonuses to executives than to provide the most basic services for customers.

Amazon, and most any non financial-too-big-too-fail institution, keeps your records available for you. The too-big-too-fail crowd though won’t keep records as well as the site you buy books from. They slap fees on customers if they want to get the paper statements they used to get for free. That is fine with me (the fees are far too high, but the concept is fine with me). The too-big-too-fail crowd wants to save money by not mailing you paper. Fine.

Then, deciding to delete your records after 6 months, or a year… is just a sign you have no interest in serving customers. Other than an organization that has no interest in customer service, suggesting such a thing would be a direct ticket to remedial training on providing value to customers.

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Technical Non-Support

A bit of fun from Dilbert. I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. The second act takes on another time waster with a management tip from Dogbert: “Always postpone meetings with time wasting morons.” Dogbert hasn’t quite adopted the respect for people principle.

via: The final word on making meetings better

Related: Dilbert and DemingFinancial Planning Made EasyCEOs Plundering Corporate Coffersposts on meetings

Trust Your Staff to Make Decisions

The failure to give your organization the flexibility to serve customers is a big mistake. Many companies make this mistake. Often the basic problem is managers don’t trust that their systems to hire and develop people that will make good decisions. The solution to this problem is not to give your staff no authority. The solution is to manage your systems so that you can trust your people. This is not as easy to do as it is to say, I will grant that.

Southwest Airlines and Zappos are companies that do respect employees. And those employees then provide great service. But it isn’t a simple thing. To truly manage a system with respect for people isn’t as easy as just putting up some slogans. But if you want to provide good customer service this is one requirement. There are plenty of others: continual improvement, evidence based management, customer focus, systems thinking

These thoughts were prompted by a nice post, jetBlue Just Blew It

You see, when I booked my flight last night I used their online system (good) and made a mistake in booking the date for my return (bad). I’m going to Boston for the weekend and accidently booked by return flight a month later in August instead of the 4 days I was looking for.

Of course their site has a lot of bookings and almost no one makes an error like this. But any UI designer who looks at their site could see that it’s absolutly possible since the length of the trip is never revealed except for the flight dates. (I”m arguing that they could put in a little fading header that tells you how long your trip is for.) If’ I’d see anywhere that my trip was scheduled for 35 days I’d have immediately know there was an issue. (I could make a simple change to the jetBlue UI that would solve this problem for everyone within a day.)

Today when I looked at my emailed itinerary I immediately spotted the problem and went online to change my ticket. They have a $100 change fee which I paid thinking I’d give them a call and that surely they’d waive that. After all, it wasn’t a change I was asking for, it was the ticket I wanted in the first place. It was less than 24 hours and the flight wasn’t for a month.

But no.

In speaking to the customer service rep who ‘called’ a manager. I was informed that I had only a 4 hour window to make any changes and that after that, there was nothing anyone could do. You see, no one at jetBlue customer service has the ‘authority’ to refuse this fee. It was company policy that they couldn’t actually do anything.

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Southwest Not Delta or United

One of the posts highlighted in the last post was one example of how Southwest behaves. It wasn’t a one time thing. It was a common result of the system Southwest has in place where they treat customers like human beings that should be respected (as Southwest does with employees).

Then you have the typical horrible treatment the other airlines practice. Like this example where Delta damages this guys bike and refuses to accept responsibility. That is until they suffered a huge amount of additional ill will over such horrible treatment of James Lawrence, who is participating in 20 half iron mans to raise money to help provide systems to provide water for those in Africa in need of it.

Which is similar to when United broke the guitar of this guy, except United I guess figured more bad publicity really doesn’t matter given that it seems to basically be their business plan. On the bright side if you do a good job of complaining you can actually do well. But thousands of people (probably tens or hundreds of thousands) suffer the results of systems destine to provide horrible service.

Systems of people function in repeatably ways. Based on the horrible service airlines provide you can be almost certain their managers do not treat employees with respect. When organizations treat front line staff as costs that need to be minimized and as unthinking, untrustworthy problems they will almost certainly pass on the bad treatment to customers.

Related: Airline Managers Disrespect CustomersCustomers Get Dissed and TellRespect for Employees at Southwest AirlinesVery Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Worse Hotel Service the More You Pay

The more you pay for your hotel room the more likely they will charge to provide decent WiFi in your room. Whether a company tries to rip you off with exorbitant prices, or lousy service, is just a function of their lack of respect for customers. Obviously it is cheap to provide decent WiFi (as staying at numerous cheap hotels shows – nearly all offer WiFi completely free).

Most expensive hotels show they do not respect their customers. Some actually do rise to the level of a typical budget, and cheaper, hotels and motels so it isn’t all expensive hotels that fail to meet this low standard. The management of those hotels come from the same school of management thought that produces our bankers.

Jeff Bezos captures one difference between poor managers (prevalent in many spreadsheet focused managers) and lean manufacturing managers with the quote: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less.”

Thoughts on: Hotel WiFi Should Be a Right, Not a Luxury

Related: Making Life Difficult for CustomersVerizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites ManIs Poor Service the Industry Standard?

Credit Card Company Tries Providing Value

Most credit card issues seem to use business models based on tricking customers into paying high fees. PartnersFirst is focusing on providing value to customers. A Different Kind of Credit-Card Company

PartnersFirst is a different kind of credit-card company. Started in 2007 with funding from Western Alliance Bancorp (WAL), the fledgling firm has three key tenets: keep rates steady, eliminate fees, and rigorously evaluate the risk of potential customers. PartnersFirst mainly makes money from the interest it charges borrowers, whereas most credit-card companies also rake in huge fees. “I realized that there was an opportunity to give cardholders a square deal and still make a profit,”

Credit-card companies have made billions on affinity cards over the years – but regulators and lawmakers worry that consumers get raw deals. Critics say colleges put their financial interests ahead of those of their students, encouraging them to rack up high-cost debt. “Affinity cards started simply as a product that alumni associations could offer members, but alumni boards realized they could bargain for more cash up front,”

The companies involved in banking and credit cards in the USA have been hostile to customers for quite some time. I have been waiting for someone to decide to provide value to customers and take a fair profit. Hopefully PartnersFirst will continue this model, though I am suspicious, if they succeed they will be bought by another financial firm that is too-big-to-fail in order to once again restrict competition via their standard practice of buying any competitors instead of providing value to customers.

Related: How to protect yourself from your credit card companyDon’t Let the Credit Card Companies Play You for a FoolRetail Credit Card Fees Much Higher in the USA