Pulling weeds to improve the customer experience

Pulling weeds to improve the customer experience


How often have you ended up raising your voice with a customer service representative or an automated voice system? It happens to me whenever the specifics of my situation fall outside a company’s “rules” for its software or front-line people.

I for one get frustrated too often, my impatient self is ashamed to admit. Still I am not alone. Companies that reduce these jaw clenching moments can gain a leg up in the race for creating the best customer experience.

My most recent example is a call to my 92-year-old (and getting mentally frail) mother’s bank. The PNC representative refused to turn on a feature that would let me (for mom) direct deposit payments into her caregivers’ banking accounts. This refusal occurred despite my name being on the account and the bank having a record of my having my mother’s power of attorney. It was also clear from my answers to the teller’s detailed questions – the check numbers, recipients and amount of three recent checks – that I was writing checks for mom. But no, because I was not mom, I could not turn on the feature. Only Mom (who lives 1300 miles away) could turn the feature on by calling into PNC. How, I wondered, do I possibly explain “popmoney” transfers to a 92-year-old?

Rick Davidson, CEO of Cimphoni, shared many parallel stories in his talk at WTN’s Fusion 2015. Cimphoni is a new consultancy that helps companies and IT departments build success through the adoption of new digital technologies and culture change. The company supplies temporary CIO services or leads from behind. (Disclosure: Cimphoni is a client.) Rick compated complexity to weeds in a garden that must be pulled so that the flowers – those things that delight customers – can flourish.

Here are examples of weeds that Davidson described:

• Requiring you to call a service center during particular business hours versus being able to do transactions on-line – at the time and place of your choosing.
• Disconnected channels, so when you finally talk to a live representative you have to redo all your prior online work or vice versa.
• Requiring you to engage in irrational behavior, like ordering online inside a store because only online orders have the sales price.
• Lengthy protocols so as to protect the company against fraudulent players when there are very few in the market relative to customers. (I have no problem with the tight security of my bank. But should my alumni societies or Ballard Home Furnishings websites be as arduous to connect into if I forget my password?)

What gives rise to the weeds and fuels their growth? For one, a culture that does not trust frontline employees. Adding too much functionality to systems is another; apparently 64% of features are never used. Failing to weed is another, as is letting legal protection against rare events take priority over great customer service for the masses. Rick also commented that change is hard—and changes in IT systems often require changes in human behavior.

Rick’s advice was terrific. If a process cannot fit on an APP, it is too complex. He also recommends that companies adopt a human-centered design approach. Here everyone on the design team must experience what it’s like to work with the company from the viewpoint of a customer.

Any CIO, wisely referred to by Rick as the Chief Enablement Officer, is uniquely positioned to identify the weeds and call a team together to pull them. If CIOs start listening to and observing customers, they will know what is broken and become a proactive professional in improving customer experience. They’ll also play a key role in personalizing the customer experience.

Sounds fun and profitable. If you’re a CIO, what’s holding you back? If you’re another C-Suite leader, talk with your CIO.

© Plantes Company, 2015
More articles by Kay Plantes

Kay Plantes is an MIT-trained economist, business strategy consultant, columnist and author. Business model innovation, strategic leadership and smart economic policies are her professional passions. She resides in San Diego, California but still considers Madison home. She is the author of Beyond Price.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.