Fixing Customer Service Blind Spots

When we conceptualize the story of a product gone right, it’s easy to imagine a beginning, middle and end. First, they didn’t know what they were doing, and then they did, and we all lived happily ever after. But when we use a product, even products we love, we know that’s not quite the case. Not usually.

So instead of looking at product success stories (or horror stories for that matter), I want to focus on blind spots for well-known, successful products, particularly as it relates to customer service. Because customer service is often a make-or-break point. This is when the user is interacting with your brand on a personal level. And if they feel misunderstood or brushed aside, that’s it. If they can go with one of your competitors, they will.

Let’s start by taking a look at Nest, which was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014. I recently decided to take the smart home plunge, and, lucky for me, Nest had developed a partnership with Consolidated Edison (Con Ed), my local energy company, which provided a rebate. Yet while Nest is incredibly simple to use, setting it up is another story. When I ran into issues, the first person I spoke to on the phone couldn’t help me. The second person was more knowledgeable, but sent me back to Con Ed. And frankly, Con Ed wanted nothing to do with me.

I had to wonder why aren’t Nest and Con Ed working together to prevent me from needing to call two service groups? We are in an era where digital and physical are blending together, and this is where the experience gets more complicated. In the case of Nest, you have to understand the physical plan of the home and how it relates to the hardware. The issue wasn’t with the app but the installation and support.

In summary…

  • Pros: The nest app is great and the hardware is elegant.
  • Cons: Installation can be a hastle, initial customer service is poorly trained and could result in defering you to another long wait to talk with Con Ed.
  • The Fix: Customer service should be better trained from the get go. Nest and ConEd should form a united front so customers don’t need to call both of them. And perhaps installation could be simplified to prevent the customer service call.

Let’s move onto another well-known example, something many of us use every day: Lyft or Uber. From the 100s of rides I’ve taken to date, I honestly have no complaints. But what I am curious about is why they limited their audience demographics to the extent that people with disabilities, adolescents and the elderly are left out. I’ve used Uber several times to help my mother get around, and it’s certainly a world apart from what I would experience with a yellow cab in Manhattan. I can call the driver, let them know what to expect, and then watch them make their route. My mom is in her 90s and simply can’t navigate this on her own. I’m sure Uber doesn’t expect her to, but why aren’t they creating something senior friendly? Companies are popping up to fill this gap even though it’s something Uber could provide themselves.

In summary…

  • Pros: The app is easy to use, the concierge API is great and the technology is there.
  • Cons: The app doesn’t think about all demographics (adolescence, people with disabilities and seniors) and a round trip feature doesn’t yet exist.
  • The Fix: The app should have a loop or round trip option arranging for both drop off and pick up time/locations. In addition work can be done to understand all customer use cases so it can be more accessible.

Let’s take a look at IKEA. Anyone who has bought anything that required assembly from IKEA (and isn’t an assembly genius) has told themselves, “Never again!” Perhaps it was so affordable because you had to try to understand their instructions, which always looked to me like hieroglyphics. Years into IKEAs existence, TaskRabbit appeared, and what was its main offering? Assembling furniture. Suddenly, all of IKEA’s problems were solved, so IKEA bought TaskRabbit.

In summary…

  • Pros: The products are nice looking, affordable, with lots of options. An all-in-stop shopping experience with shipping options.
  • Cons: Not everyone was savvy enough to assemble the furniture or had time to do so. It was also expensive to pay IKEA to assemble it for you while whoever came to assemble the furniture wouldn’t make good money.
  • The Fix: TaskRabbit was reaping benefits from IKEA while also fixing all of IKEA’s issues, so IKEA bought them and integrated their services into their brand.

What’s the takeaway? As we’re moving into digital products that require physical experiences, it’s no longer just about the “app.” Businesses need to think about the user experience from end-to-end — not just at installation but at every departure from the digital-only world.

I heard a story about seniors who used a Uber to meet their son, but their son was held up in traffic and didn’t show. When it was time to call it quits, the seniors ordered a pizza from a pizzeria nearby, and asked the delivery guy to take them home with their pizza. Clever, right? But you don’t want to leave your customer to depend on pizza delivery to fix your blindspot.

Jeannette McClennan

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President of The McClennan Group, Serial Entrepreneur, Digital Businesses, Co-Author Innovators Anonymous, #IA