The wrong information leads to bad experiences

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This editorial is not exactly in line with the planned list, as I want to discuss something topical, personal, and relevant, about the capture of and use of data/information. This is before we get to look at the flavours of warehouse/mart/repository, but is about the kind of information you might need in order to create the right experience for your customer and prospective customer. This editorial also reflects the benefits and problems of extending brands.

I just read the latest Harvard Business Review and found a great article "Want to perfect your customer service? Use behavioural science" (Richard Chase and Sriram Dasu - June 2001). The article puts forward what many have known instinctively, and what many salespeople use explicitly: you need a strong finish (among other important findings), which must remain in the customer's mind. The article puts forward five principles to consider:

  1. Finish strongly
  2. Get bad experiences out of the way early
  3. Segment the pleasure, combine the pain
  4. Build commitment through choice
  5. Give people rituals and stick to them

It's an interesting article and well worth a read, but I'd like to focus on my own personal experience and tell you a story. In my case, the great finish was the best because the bad experiences occurred throughout. Little pleasure was experienced, no choice was given and the rituals just added to the pain I felt.

I would like to tell you a short tale, as the long one will make a good case study. The tale is about the purchase of my first brand new car and is directly related to one of the five principles: end with a strong finish. Yes of course I have had new cars before, but not wholly owned by yours truly. This was my second biggest expenditure after my current house. It was important to me to get the right car, at the best price, with the best service, and as quickly as possible. I chose to import a car through Virgin Cars. (Please note that if an organisation gets something right, you tell four or five people, and if they get it wrong, you tell…….. Well I am telling you!)

Now the principle of the big finale (finish strong) was great. A large container lorry arrived outside my house. The lorry had "Virgin Cars" in bold letters on the side; the whole street could see it, and some of my neighbours who knew I was expecting a car, came out to watch. The deliveryman opened up the rear of the lorry and there was my beautiful new car. It had not been driven to my house but transported, protected, and had only 13 miles on the clock. The car was driven out of the lorry on to my drive, and the man then explained about all the fine points of the car and demonstrated the options. It was really great finally to have the car (at last). The finish was great but it did not make up for what had gone before!

I have flown Virgin Atlantic many times and think they are a really a great airline. I have had two holidays with Virgin Holidays and think they are great. Therefore when it was time to buy a new car I thought of the recently opened-for-business Virgin Cars on the web. They offered the type of car I wanted, at a reasonable discount, with a reasonable delivery date and a refreshing self-service approach to choosing options. Oh yes, I did expect really great service along the way! The start was great. We sorted the details out, put them into my file on the Web and I ordered the car and paid my deposit. Two weeks later I got a phone call telling me the car I had chosen, a diesel, would now take nine more weeks to deliver. After some discussion, I chose to accept a petrol version that would match the original date of delivery. I also accepted their offer for my current car in part exchange.

At this point things started to go wrong! Let me state clearly that the staff of Virgin's call centre were, and are, superb. You feel that they care, but the processes behind them let them down: locking my online file so I couldn't change my details; changing prices; lack of confirmation; the website displaying items that could not actually be purchased, and so on. At one point the Customer Services director contacted me personally to apologise and confirm that he was now on the case and all would be sorted. I even had lunch with him, during which he made the rash promise that in March 2001 he would personally deliver my car. As I understand it he is no longer with them in that capacity.

In April I received a letter telling me my car would be delayed. Then silence. I was obliged to chase Virgin, as I had done many times before, to keep myself informed of progress. The call centre staff could not help, as the information about delivery was handled not only in another part of the organisation but in another part of the country. Of course I asked if the call centre staff couldn't view delivery details on their screens, but they did not have that kind of access. They had to get the information for me. Backwards and forwards till eventually I got a date. It happened to be that same day I was on the phone to them. They apologised and on it went. I was then informed that the car had been built and I would soon be asked to pay for it.

It was at about this time that I was informed that Virgin would offer me less than half the money they had originally offered for my current car in part-exchange. As you can imagine, I felt a little let down. I felt like they were trying to squeeze more money out of me by offering a derisory amount for my current vehicle. It especially hurt me when I went out that same day and was offered close to the original price Virgin offered, by the first car dealer I visited!

At the beginning of June an invoice arrived. Attached to the invoice was what looked like a copy of a copy of a fax that described my new car, minus half the options ordered, and wrong in other minor details, such as colour. I once more phoned them and was eventually reassured by a one of their senior staff that all was well and I would receive a copy of the correct specification. Then, to add insult, I was chased for payment by e-mail. So I paid my money on the promise that the car would be delivered in two or three weeks. Four weeks later I rang the help desk. They got me a revised date and this was followed up by a confirmation. I then received the customer delivery confirmation letter which had to be returned in the "envelope provided". They had not included the enclosed envelope on this, of all occasions. So I had to ring them to confirm the address to which I should return the all important confirmation letter. The day before the car arrived I got my vehicle registration documents. The documents told me the car they believed I would have was green - I had ordered red. Their database had my car down as green and that is what they had told the vehicle registration system. The rest is history.

Now the lessons that should be learned relate both to the process and to the capture and use of information. I will only focus on the information at this point, but let's be clear: CRM is not about the data and information that is captured, held, and used for and against the customer. It's about the underlying processes and people that make it all work. The focus is on the synergy that a good CRM solution offers. The best call/contact centre solutions fall flat on their face if there is not sufficient information available to support them. The best processes fail if the organisational structure works against success.

The bad experience I had was compounded by cracks in process and information linkages. Poor execution by operations added to the dismal experience. They had the colour of my car on file for seven months but no person or system checked my order against what they were telling the vehicle licensing authority. They failed to keep the call centre informed of the progress of my order, although I was supposed to be getting special treatment according to their director.

Let’s stop there and talk about relevant data that needs to be turned into information.

Most organisations are awash with data held for various reasons in numerous databases. I have come across many organisations, from Financial Institutions to Telco's, that have created islands of data in Excel spreadsheets, Access, File-pro, hidden in application, modified Outlook and so on. Yet for our purposes we need to pull this data together so we can enable an enterprise to use it. Not all the information needs to be collected, however. Well, not immediately. An organisation needs relevant data that can be turned into the right information. It must be trusted and this demands extraction, transformation and loading into some form of central database, maybe an initial data mart or a data warehouse.

The most practical way of collecting the right data is to apply the eighty-twenty rule, plus a dose of un-common sense. We must have the relevant data; however, this can often be identified with the rule that looks at what is required for the processes to work and decisions to be made in support of the business. What is excluded at the start is the "nice to have" data, and some of the data related to the "what if" scenarios. An organisation like Virgin Cars had the luxury of a clean slate on which to write their own rules. The best idea for a start up would have been to model the customer experience and capture the data that would be required to service this experience as a starter. The logic would have then been to enable a caseworker to handle the process to resolution; not a disjointed set of functions separated by organisational silos. Organisations that don't have the luxury of being a start up can still follow the principle of experience modelling, so that the right data for the right level of support and relationship can be created. CRM is about more than targeting customers and customer revenue maximisation. Organisations should be trying to create a relevant, unique customer experience, as promised by their current brand image or the brand image they aspire to. Failure to live up to the implicit trust diminishes the whole brand. This means that CRM must focus on more than the data, turned into relevant information and knowledge, to capture customers and prospects. CRM is a way of doing business that must use the information it captures in support of the business operations that bring the relationship (or not) to life.

If all the customer wants is performance at a price, then the business may not build a direct relationship but a trusted brand may be all that is needed. But CRM, when applied to those organisations and individuals that do need relationships, demands the right information and the right processes to support it.

A customer information infrastructure means just that. Information about the customer, and the ancillary information to enable a relationship to be built, maintained and extended. Maybe Virgin will learn; who really knows? Oh, and the car - well I now know why they call it "the ultimate driving machine".

If you have any comments or feedback, you can add them at the bottom of the story.

Best regards,

Michael Meltzer

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09th Jul 2001 15:02

Many people have similar bad experiences to recount - and as you say, it's the bad ones you remember and pass on. It strikes me that the common problem, especially with companies who branch out into online/self-service areas, is that these companies don't recognise that it's not enough to have the wherewithal to enable the self-service interface, and to (theoretically, at least) be able to fulfill the orders. It's the connections between these two that cause the breakdown, and result in the customer's loss of faith in the process. Most customers will understand if there's a delay in delivery, or if there's a hiccup on the website; what they don't understand, and aren't willing to forgive is when there is consistent failure in communication. Getting the communication links flowing is the most vital thing in attempting to foster good customer relationships.

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By admin
12th Jul 2001 09:16

Dear Michael,

the article did highlight a number of facts:

- Communication did play a vital role in CRM process.
- Process and procedure is great, but it also needs suitable people to run and handle it in order to achieve the goal.
- To be able to pull people working together as one body, it would be half success.
- How to bring relationship to life, that's wow - need more for that.

regards

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avatar
09th Jul 2001 15:02

Many people have similar bad experiences to recount - and as you say, it's the bad ones you remember and pass on. It strikes me that the common problem, especially with companies who branch out into online/self-service areas, is that these companies don't recognise that it's not enough to have the wherewithal to enable the self-service interface, and to (theoretically, at least) be able to fulfill the orders. It's the connections between these two that cause the breakdown, and result in the customer's loss of faith in the process. Most customers will understand if there's a delay in delivery, or if there's a hiccup on the website; what they don't understand, and aren't willing to forgive is when there is consistent failure in communication. Getting the communication links flowing is the most vital thing in attempting to foster good customer relationships.

Thanks (0)