Recently, I’ve been helping my daughter move into her own apartment. She’s in college and moving to her own place for the first time. And so I flew out to California to help her look for furniture and appliances she would need. (Since she’s in California and I live in Washington state, it didn’t make any sense to try and haul furniture across the country, so we tried to find everything around there.)
Our last task was to find her a refrigerator. We left it for the last day because it seemed like an easy task. We had a choice of two big box stores to purchase a refrigerator from, both within a few miles of each other. And both had similar products with similar prices, so it all really boiled down to convenience and customer service. Or more specifically, do they deliver? We needed a refrigerator that could be delivered that day, before I left, to her new home, either for free or for a small charge.
And so it turned out that, on that day, we were sitting in the parking lot of one store (Big Box A) and decided to call the other one (Big Box B), which is a large membership chain that my daughter is a member of, to compare delivery service options. Since we had already shopped at Big Box A, we decided to call Big Box B and see if they could deliver a similar refrigerator for the same or less. Here’s what happened:
Call #1: We took her membership card and took the 1-800 number off the card and called it. We got the automated system, which had a typical “press 1 press 2” menu. We pressed 1 and entered our zip code. Then the system asked us to press again if we wanted the phone number, and then it started listing phone numbers—a lot of them. A barrage of 10-digit phone numbers came at us at a dizzying speed. And of course, sitting in the car, we were scrambling to find a pen and paper as well. After a few minutes, we wrote down the number that seemed to make sense, which was the number to have a representative talk to us.
Call #2: We hung up from the first call and called the number we’d written down. We got another automated system with menus. Remember, all I wanted to find out is will they deliver today and how much will it cost. And I was presented with multiple levels of menus, most of which were for different departments in the store, like optical or deli. And after listening to a menu of six department numbers, I did what most people would do—I hesitated. While I hesitated, the system told me that I’d waited too long and hung up.
Call #3: I called the same number again. (I am persistent.) This time, when presented with the department menus, I just pressed zero, figuring maybe I’ll get a person. And the system continually said, “the operator is not available” and kept looping back. Taking a chance, I pressed something else—option 1. And I actually got to a person! She was a real, live person that took the time to talk to me, tell me that the delivery service was free and give me the phone number for the delivery service that Big Box B uses. Most people would like this personal touch, but as an IVR developer, all I could think was, “What a waste! I had to pull a real person off the sales floor to answer a simple question—an automated system could have done this much more efficiently!”
Call #4: (If you’re keeping track, this is the fourth phone call and the third 10-digit number that I had to write down.) I called the number for the delivery service. There a representative answered immediately, so I was pleasantly surprised—until he confirmed that the company I’d called was an outsourced vendor, which I already did not like. Since they are outsourced, and because the phone system didn’t track my call or request, they did not know any of the details of my situation, such as which store I was trying to order from. And it turned out that they do deliver for Big Box B, but it’s not a free service, as last rep told me; it’s actually a $55 charge.
So at this point, I got frustrated. I got out of the car, walked into Big Box A and bought the refrigerator there. They scheduled the delivery and delivered on time before I left town—it was all easy!
What I’d say to Big Box B and any store that wants to bring in more customers:
Make it easy for your customers to reach you
Have customer service reps design your IVRs and phone trees, not technologists (see my last article on this). My question was a simple one, and I had to make four phone calls and navigate complicated menu trees to get it answered. In the seven minutes I was doing that, Big Box B lost a sale and Big Box A gained one.
Once I entered my zip code, the system should have been able to tell me what the delivery policy and cost for the closest store was and connect me to the service to answer my questions. Instead, I had to pull a live person off the sales floor, which was not only inconvenient for me as a customer but also costly for Big Box B.
In my opinion, the key to a better customer experience in this system would be to start with an open-ended question, such as “how may I help you?” and to tie all the disparate systems together—the frustration in this situation arose from each store having its own independent system, and the brand having its own independent system, and all these systems (with long, complicated menus) not being connected together.
In the end, the best customer experience comes from a system that is focused on making the process intuitive, quick and easy for the customer.