Id like to say a little more about a subject that I discussed a year ago: how poorly applied technologies and
routines can become a nuisance and get in the way of service and customer satisfaction.
stories I am telling are true. I dont name names because thats irrelevant
and it wouldnt be appropriate to criticize a single company when most of its
competitors do the same, or worse. These are only a few examples. The list of problems
that we face is never-ending and a few more turn up almost every day.
The hidden drivers
One of the leading manufacturers of computer-driven appliances makes a very widely sold
and used device. The machine suddenly misfuctions. Nothing has been changed. No
description of that problem, or indication of the solution, can be found anywhere in the
manual, the maintenance software or the online help.
The customer calls the companys toll-free number for assistance and
finds a recording that says for sales press 1, for service on X press 2, for
assistance on Y press 3 etcetera. After pushing several buttons, he gets though
to sales. With several attempts and request for help, he eventually finds a
kind person that puts him though to technical assistance. Before he can state
what the problem is he is asked for a number of irrelevant data (code number of device,
date of purchase, etc) and finally gets a chance to talk to a person; but he is forced
through a routine (press A five times, B nine times, this time on the machine,
not the phone) that is quite useless in his case. Finally the frustrated customer manages
to get through to a technical person, that doesnt seem to know how his problem can
be solved. After some discussion they guess that maybe re-installing the drivers may help,
but the customer has already done so and it didnt work. The technician suggest
installing new drivers; the customer says that he had tried, but there is no way of
finding them on the companys website. The technician has no idea of how his
companys website works. He promises to send new drivers by mail; but the order has
to come from Amsterdam and they will be mailed from Paris. Two weeks later the floppy
disks arrive, but thats not the solution. The customer finally calls in an engineer
that works for competitive company, who fiddles around until he finds the hidden function
that fixes the problem.
First questions: how much money and time did the company waste to disappoint a
Second (and crucial) question: will that customer ever buy any other product made by
The unreplaceable battery
An expensive top-of-the-line notebook computer, made by a leading manufacturer, has a
tiny non-rechargeable battery to keep its clock going. Its not supposed to run out
in the computers lifetime, but after a year it loses voltage and some functions
become unstable. Its not standard; there are several numbers and codes on it, but no
indication of voltage. There are no explanations in the manual. Nobody in the
companys staff (or its dealers) seems to have any idea of where a replacement can be
found. That battery was installed only in that particular model and after a year the
company has lost all memory of such ancient times.
Luckily the customer knows someone in the companys management, so he calls and
says Jack, please, can you find me one of those damned little batteries?
Jack looks around, cant find the spare part but after a while manages to find
out what sort of battery it is. So (with some effort) a replacement is found on the market
and rather clumsily fitted into the small space available. The whole process, which
wasnt at all simple, took a few months.
Questions: as above.
The self-destructing phone exchange
In another large company the telephone exchange, if a call-through line is busy, puts
you on hold with recorded music and a please wait message. Nothing happens.
You could wait for hours or days.
If you are looking for a friend or a familiar business acquaintance, you find a way:
you call them at home, on their private line or on their portable phone.
But if you are customer looking for information or wanting to buy something... will you
seek lateral ways or simply call a competitor?
The dead-end press release
A company is launching a new product, called Hannibal and promising miracles. It issues
a press release containing a mailbox, a web address, a few phone numbers and a fax.
A journalist, looking for facts and not just hype, e-mails but gets no answer in 48
hours. She isnt working for a daily newspaper, but she must meet a deadline. On the
site there are lots of pictures and adjectives, a game on Carthaginian history, a contest
for guessing the products price, animations, sound effects and other glitz. But not
the information that she wants. She sends a fax but gets another copy of the same vague
press release. So she calls the phone numbers and gets answers such as Ill
put you though (dead line) or Hanniwhat? or Sorry,
Ms. Brown is out and we dont know when shes coming back.
So she doesnt write about the new product but about the incompetence of the
companys press service. In the meantime people interested in buying the product run
into the same sort of cul-de-sac.
Examples could go on forever. And its getting worse. More and more,
service and information functions are delegated to inefficient routines, poorly trained
people or inadequate technologies.
Things become even more complicated and frustrating when the dialogue is not just
between company and customer, but involves other organizations: dealers, distributors,
suppliers, sub-contractors, service companies. The vicious circle of combined
inefficiencies is as powerful as the virtuous circle that can be
realized with effective coordination and synergy if priorities are set properly and
the process is organized accordingly.
Technologies are neutral. They can be useful or harmful according to how
the process is set up and how coherently the applications are chosen and organized.
Communication technologies, if well chosen and applied, can improve service and
save money. But our daily experience shows that quite often they work the other way round:
because the system is based on bureaucracy, company routines and pre-defined software,
instead of being designed to serve the needs of customers or people accessing an