I’ve been shaking my fists and screaming at the walls lately. It seems as if my service providers have embarked on a conspiracy to drive me crazy and suck up my precious time. Here are just two recent examples:
- My homeowner’s insurance company has moved everything on line. What used to require one quick phone call – let me repeat that: one quick phone call – now requires separate accounts for my husband and me, more usernames and passwords, multiple struggles with logins, and a steady stream of inbox-clogging email demanding our attention. We had to fill out an extensive online form providing much of the same information already conveyed by phone, some of which requires judgment and expertise we don’t have. We were forced to switch to all electronic communications; we can undo that change later if we are willing to invest the time needed to figure out how. We struggled through an apparent forced switch to debit payment instead of continued automated credit card payments; we were able to reverse this with another phone call. In the end, the insurances company spent far more time on the phone with us than the old system that took one phone call.
- A few weeks ago, I contacted my bank to notify them of upcoming travel plans so my ATM card would not be rejected. That is when I found out they had cancelled my ATM card! Without telling me! They said they purge cards that haven’t beeb used in a while to protect their customers. How protected do you think I would have felt had I discovered I couldn’t get cash after landing in London?
Whether you’re trying to reduce costs, defects, or cycle times or make jobs easier, you can’t make things harder for customers! Not unless you don’t care if they remain customers.
Customers are really pretty easy. All they want is:
- Good value
- Reasons to believe you are looking out for their best interests
- Reliable and predictable results
- Human intelligence to resolve problems and confirm that everything is copacetic
My recent experiences show companies trampling all over these basic customer needs. They shifted effort and responsibility to us, made us jump through hoops, and left us in the lurch. In both cases, strong loyalty has been rattled, if not shattered, and I am now open to alternatives.
To avoid these problems:
Step 1. Be clear about the problem you are trying to solve. And be sure you are talking about real value, not just “wouldn’t it be nice if…
- our customers did all the work,
- they filled out the forms so any mistakes are their fault instead of ours,
- everything were online,
- we could tap bank accounts directly and do away with billing, mail, and credit card fees,
- we could spend less time answering phone calls and training people to provide intelligent answers.”
I can’t imagine what problem my insurance company was trying to solve. We’ve been happy customers enjoying reliable, easy service for decades. What possible reason could they have for turning everything on its head and making so many new demands of us? What problem were they trying to solve?
Step 2. Be sure your proposed solution actually addresses the problem. Too often, people develop wonderful new systems that will cure all problems once and for all. Except the one that matters.
If the insurance company suddenly must have signatures, why does that mean we have to create new accounts, fill out forms, switch to electronic communications, or change the way we pay?
Step 3. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Before picking a solution to your problem, step through a number of scenarios and evaluate the impact on your customers. Are you making their lives easier? Are you creating additional value? If you are adding complexity or decreasing value, what’s in it for them?
It is pretty clear that no one did this in either of the above cases.
Step 4. Pause long enough to ask what could go wrong. This is a tremendously important step that is almost universally neglected. You need to ask what could go wrong! Once you generate a list of potential problems, you must look for ways to prevent them from occurring or to reduce the impact of those you can’t prevent. If you can’t, you ought to reconsider the solution you have selected.
What might happen if we cancel someone’s ATM card? What if these unused cards aren’t lost or destroyed and someone actually thinks they will work when called upon?
What could go wrong during the process of forcing people to sign up for our product online? What if they don’t want to change the way they pay? What if they have paid us thousands and thousands of dollars, made no claims, and cost us only a few hours on the phone during all of this time?
Step 5. Tell your customers what you are doing. If you are going to cancel someone’s ATM card, tell them! If you have changed your process for ordering insurance, tell them what is needed and why. Don’t take the information over the phone as usual and then ignore it as you send an automated stream of email demands!
If you find yourself sugar-coating your explanations of changes, trying to put a good spin on the demands you are making of your customers, return to Step 1. Do not pass Go! Do not collect any bonuses!
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on April 23rd, 2016.