When internal structures & systems break the customer experience.

DeborahFreeman© All rights reserved 2008

It’s 2016 and some of the most renowned organisations are struggling to put the customer and technology at the centre of the way they operate. Too many are placing their main focus on competitors, with too little focus on customers.

Some organisations are at a really exciting time, where a transformation is in progress. While others simply don’t care and are willing to continue to operate as they always have.

You only have to look at established companies such as General Electric (GE), Toyota and Auto Trader, to witness the sheer amount of positive impact adapting can have on growth and overall customer satisfaction.

A ‘real-world’ story.

There’s a lot to be said about insurance; how we purchase, how we claim, how we’re kept up to date on a claim and how we’re serviced.

It’s never been easier.

In most cases, purchasing online has never been easier. Teams have gotten smarter and have focused on digital as an enabler, removing frictions that the offline world brings. By making it much easier to buy, no matter the device you’re using, purchasing journeys have become much simpler, particularly on mobile. Just look at the likes of Amazon with 1-Click and the vast methods to pay via flexible payment solutions. Even simple additions, such as scanning your credit/debit card so you don’t have to manually enter the details.

There’s so many ways, it’s so easy to claim.

For customers, it’s probably easier to make a claim now than it was a few years ago (or at least we think that’s the case). However for businesses there’s now multiple channels to manage. How many organisations can service all of their channels in the same way, providing complete consistency? It turns out that one of the big six energy providers can’t handle several of theirs very well at all.

Last week, an experience with a new home care provider left me in shock. To begin with it was impressive but it soon became a complete mess; a little bit like my first car, shiny on the outside but a complete nail on the inside.

My experience with them was so bad that I’m writing about it now. I was left thinking, there is surely so much that can be done to fix this…

I called up to make a claim a couple of weeks ago as my boiler had stopped working (2 days after turning it on) and it turned out that my account hadn’t actually been processed correctly, if at all. Bearing in mind that I had a super experience online; it was intuitive, simple and ever so quick. I even received an email from the ‘Digital Director’ to say I was ready to go — little did he know, that wasn’t the case.

I’m a fan of the ‘fake it till you make it’ mantra when it comes to launching new products and services, but when you’re a huge company that prides itself on being the best it’s not acceptable as people’s lives are dependant on your services.

Long story short, after attempting to make a claim to the Customer Care team, I had to wait for someone from the Sales team to call me back to take all of my details that I’d already provided online; personal details, boiler make/model and the plan I’d taken out through to my bank details. Being an existing customer I asked if they could just set it up using the details they already had for me… apparently not, the systems are completely separate.

Finally, once all of that was done, we got to the most important part; booking a slot for the next available Engineer to come out. This is never the same day, it’s the next day and it’s a 6 hour slot. How can we be expected to miss work to wait for an Engineer, or have to rely upon family and friends to save the day? A few solutions could exist here:

  1. Offer shorter time slots — 2/3 hours seems acceptable
  2. Enable customers to see where their Engineer is e.g. track them or simply show where they are in line so that they can do other things within the 6 hour slot
  3. Have slots available outside the usual operating hours (I’d happily pay a premium for this)

When the slot had been confirmed I asked how I’d know when the Engineer would arrive, I was told I’d get a call when they were 20 minutes away — yeah because that’s useful isn’t it when I’m on a conference call and I need to tell my Mom to head over to the house to meet the Engineer. Me feeling anxious all day…

Note. I had 2 calls which equated to 50 minutes on a Sunday ‘the’ day of rest that I’ll never get back.

It doesn’t get any easier.

So you think it’s over and it’s all wonderful from here? You’re wrong. The Engineer was scheduled to come out between 12pm and 6pm. It got to 5pm and I’d heard nothing. So I called for an update, only to find that the Engineer wouldn’t be coming as it had been busier than expected (it’s October, surely they anticipated this?!). They must have known this at 1pm, so why didn’t they tell me then? Why didn’t they send me an text to say that the Engineer couldn’t make it?

As we’d been let down, we were then given priority treatment — like my emotions hadn’t been played with enough. We were promised that the Engineer would be with us between 12pm and 2pm, so that’s another day where we needed to get someone to come round to the house because you know, we work full time. 1.15pm arrives and the Engineer calls whilst I’m on a on conference call… guessing it’s him, I send a text to say someone would be there within 10 minutes, followed by a text to my Mom to head round to the house. The Engineer arrived at 1.30pm.

The Engineer saved the day and got the boiler working; hot water *check*… heating *negative*. He now needed to come back again the following day. His report was left on an A4 sheet which didn’t tell me much at all — my Mom had to relay the issues to me and it’s never the same. Recently I had my car serviced and I received a text with a link to a video overview of the service; things to keep an eye out for and what needed changing. This would’ve been handy in this scenario instead of my Mom trying to explain everything.

Long story short, he came back the next day and fixed everything. I now have heating and hot water. Hallelujah.

If it’s broken, fix it.

There’s a number of things broken with this entire experience:

  • Lack of communication between business functions
  • Back office / technology issues bleeding into the customer experience
  • Little consideration of people’s daily lives e.g. 6 hour time slots
  • Manual / human processes to share important information
  • Zero ability to track your Engineer

There’s a long way to go, but there’s a solution to all of these customer and business problems. It’s a matter of teams working closer together, to define the desired customer (and employee) experience. This can be achieved through customer journey mapping. This helps to surface friction points (a lot of them are above) which makes it a lot easier to visualise the existing experience and to break it up into manageable parts. Teams can then focus on various parts of the experience and come up with solutions that can be implemented in the short, medium and long term, all towards the desired experience.

A big learning here is to focus on the customer and encourage collaboration across the organisation – not have people working in silos.


I’m thinking, chatting and reading about this sort of thing everyday, so if you’re interested in this sort of thing too, then I’d love to say Hello and share thoughts. You can find me over here on Twitter.