If you care about your customers

This is just a little thing. It’s not even a digital thing.

It’s a real-life thing.

You want your customer to send you something. Payment maybe? Or a returned product? Or a nice, complimentary letter about how customer-focused you are?

And you give them an address that looks like this:

Kingston Technology Europe Limited
Kingston Court
Brooklands Close
Sunbury on Thames
Middlesex, TW16 7EP
United Kingdom

Now, we may know in the rational bit of our heads that there is a ton of redundant information here. Stuff that whether included or omitted will have absolutely no bearing on whether the damn thing arrives where it should. (I just love that “Limited”.)

But being the dutiful, well-trained creatures that we are, we write it all out, don’t we? (I confess, I do.) Cramping letters into the available space, with teacher’s voice in our head telling us that if the package goes astray, and we hadn’t put hyphens in the right place (or worse, omitted them as in the Sunbury example above) then we had only ourselves to blame?

But if you know (or could establish with a little bit of effort) that stuff sent to:

Brooklands Close
TW16 7EP

would get there just as effectively, then why wouldn’t you? Really?

That’s 10 of 16 character strings removed. 63%.

OK, you can keep the UK if you’re really not sure where something will be sent from. But you probably know, don’t you?

A little more thought. It’s the small things. Remember that stuff about “unstructured conversations”? The closer you can get to an easy vernacular, the more people are going to like you. And that’s going to make you more profitable.

Update: later the same day…

Different issue, different company.

“Hi, thanks for calling. Can I have your membership number?”

–erm, sorry, I haven’t got it anywhere to hand.

“Ooh, that’s ok, just give me your postcode, date of birth and first line of your address”

–ok. (and I do)

“Right you are: your membership number is AB123456789. Please can you use that next time you call us?”

–why? it seemed much more straightforward for me just to tell you things I always know, like my date of birth and address.

“Ah well you see, it’s easier for us you see if you tell us your membership number [SHE ACTUALLY SAID THIS] that way we don’t have to go looking up addresses and dates of birth and so on, you see. It’s…quicker.”

–is it? is it really? what you did seemed pretty fast.

“Thank you Mr Clarke. Now, why did you call us?”

–hang on just a moment though. imagine I had called you and given you my membership number, which I’d either had to memorise, write down somewhere, or look up in a big pile of papers under my desk while on the call to you. imagine I’d done that.


–would you need to ask me anything else? I mean, ask me any other information about me? you know, to make sure you were talking to the right person and all that.

“Erm, yes”

–what would you need to ask me?

“Can we just get on with-”

–no, I’m sorry, we can’t. What else would you ask me?

[tetchy voice] “Do you want me to help you or not?”

–c’mon, get it over with

[tiny voice] “Address and date of birth”

–thank you

“You’re welcome”

A little end-of-contract feedback for O2

…after about ten years as a pay-monthly customer.

Things you could have done better

1. When my contract came up for renewal at the end of last year, you might have let me know. Obviously, I’m a grown-up and could have kept track of the date myself, but it would have a) given you an opportunity to transfer me to a nice new lucrative contract, and b) not made me feel five months later that I was still paying top whack for what was now a very uncompetitive contract and a handset at the end of its life.

2. Remember that bollocks about me having to prove to you that I was 18? That.

3. Have a data signal available in London. Even just sometimes. Oh, that massive black hole between Battersea and Croydon? Up to an hour of my working day, every day? That too. (Your competitors don’t have this problem, you know. It’s not an insurmountable engineering problem, honest.)

4. Customer service. When I ask for stuff to be emailed to me, rather than having to grab a pen and write it down–this is not some modern, crazy self-indulgence on my part–it’s how normal people communicate.

5. Insurance. Oh dear. I paid you £7.50 a month for a comprehensive policy, including accidental damage. When my phone stopped working, firstly I had to work out the magic words to say: not, apparently, “it’s stopped working”, in which case you were not prepared to help me, but “it got dropped in water” or “I lost it”, in which case you were. How stupid do you think your customers are? How many conversations are suddenly interrupted at that point by the sound of a flushing loo?

6. Actually, you must think they’re fairly stupid. At the end of nearly three hours of my time spent chasing paperwork that you “needed” for the insurance claim, you then told me about the excess–rather more than the handset was worth. Thanks for that. Another tick in the box.

7. And when I went to my new mobile provider, they said, “check your home insurance policy, you’re probably covered”. And I was. So thanks for taking that rather-more-than-£200 in premiums for something I didn’t need.

8. Calling me to sell me other services, like broadband, no matter how often I asked you not to.

9. Junk-texting me. Ever.

10. Stopping one of your really useful services–the ability to buy an overseas data bundle–meaning the only option was a usurious £3/MB and NOT MENTIONING on your website that the option didn’t exist any more. Resulting in your customers going around and around the site in circles for an age, trying in frustration to find where you’d hidden it.

Things you did well

Nothing, really.

Dear O2

I actually feel sorry for you. No, really, I do. The Gods of Fail looked down this morning and smote you hard with the Cudgels of Crap Customer Management. So hard, it seems, that you were stunned into silence for several hours.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it? You’ve had to do something you didn’t really want to do, probably–implementing a Voluntary Code protecting minors from The Evil Internet.

A piece of utterly repressive, responsibility-dodging bollocks, I grant you. But you squared up (like all the other operators have/will) and got on with it.

You came up with a smart little scheme to make it pretty easy for people to do the necessary: to prove to your satisfaction (or that of your Regulator) that you weren’t going to let any sweatybody images fall upon the eyeballs of hormonal teens via your networks. Oh no, not you.

You did some sharp thinking about the dangers of using any of the data you already held on your customers–like how long they’d been with you, whether they had a credit card, or the date of birth they might have given you as part of credit-checking. Oh no, not you. That might lead to nasty discussions about Data Protection and all sorts of horrid.

And anyway, you had a sneaking feeling that some of your customers might well have signed up as adults, and then given the phones to their children. This might be something to do with the fact that you, like all the major mobile operators, have missed a blindingly obvious business opportunity to run “parent pays, child plays” contracts. Y’know, making it easy to do something like run a managed bill that we pay monthly, giving the kids some privacy of the numbers they call, not letting them blow their allowance (sorry) and all that sort of sensible stuff. But that’s another rant.

So they might have done this workaround, and there may be some phones in the horny hands of kids, and you won’t know which ones they are.

So your first blinding bit of genius is to assume that everyone, absolutely everyone, is under 18. Until they prove otherwise to you. Great move.

Your second masterstroke (actually, it is quite a good one) is to realise that this might be a slight pain in the arse for some of your customers. So you cook up a little sweetener. If they pay a pound on a credit card, showing the transaction up on Daddy’s bill if it’s a naughty one, you’ll refund £2.50 against the next bill for the account holder. You’re giving money away! You’re buying out the pain of the change. This is brilliant. Textbook stuff.

Next bit of genius. TELL NOBODY ABOUT THIS. Why trouble them with the pain of change in advance? They’ll only worry. Just imagine their delight when they try to visit a website (in my case, one that could not have been more innocent) and up pops a little surprise. A page run by someone called “Bango” asking for money before one can continue. You did this because that’s Bango’s core business, not yours, running this sort of administration. More genius at work. (Bango. Seriously. What. Were. You. Thinking.)

And as people started to question, and moan, and give you feedback (I posted the screenshot above about 9am–soon after you must have switched on, or extended, the block) you sensibly kept quiet, not wanting to add to the confusion.

I went into your shop at about 11 to find that your (non)communication strategy was actually multi-channel. Amazing! The assistant had no idea why all these people were asking her the same thing. She maintained that O2 would never, ever request credit card details like this. It was bound to be a hoax. I really, carefully, asked her if she’d had any sort of advance notice from O2 that this was going to happen. That today might be a bit of a “special day” in terms of unexpected–and wholly avoidable–contact. Nope. Not a word. She even insisted that something like this would have to have been on their internal systems. And nothing was. I showed her the live Twitter search on “O2”. Unimpressed. She doesn’t “do Twitter”.

Eventually something clicked, and I had to haul out my ID–she’d realised this was age verification. I had to produce photo ID. And she had to see it. Yes. Really. At 43. Not funny. Just stupid. And then I was unlocked and away, free to be all dirty again. O2, hanging your High St staff out like that is even less funny. Really, really dumb. Think how she felt when she caught on to what had happened?

And by the afternoon, you’ve had a bit of a rethink about communication and you’ve put up a blog post explaining your side of the story. The date of the post is 3 March. Not yesterday, not last week, not written in time for you to actually communicate it. (In fairness, I see at the time of writing, 7.20pm, that you are actually using it like a blog, taking all comments, and responding reasonably. I’m assuming you hired a social media wizard sometime around lunchtime.)

It could have been so different. A brief “we’re giving away £1.50 for 1 minute of your time” campaign, reaching all your customers, saying that you really wish the world wasn’t so grim that this sort of stuff was necessary, but it was, and here you go, you’ll get the price of a half out of it. A little bit of preparation and a bit more spent on communication, and you’d have turned this into a great piece of well-handled change.

And when people started giving feedback, where were you? The thing is, if you don’t tell people what’s going on, they start making stuff up. Complete horseshit, sometimes. As I suspect you eventually saw, people were telling each other that they’d have to pay £1 EACH TIME they accessed the Internet. That they could bring all sorts of contractual claims against you for breaching terms of service without due process. Horseshit like that is MUCH more exciting than boring old facts. But as you didn’t provide any, off ran the rumours. You should have known this stuff.

Failure when it could easily have been avoided. That’s what makes the whole episode so utterly depressing.

And please can I have my £2.50 service credit?

UPDATE: This carelessly abandoned O2 board paper reveals the depth of thought behind this carefully-crafted scheme…

Observe – feedback – fix

Congratulations Camden Council.

I’m in the process of fighting a case on behalf of #tweetbike about a little parking matter. That’s another story.

But at two stages in the appeal process so far I’ve been pointed to the online appeal process: http://www.camden.gov.uk/pcnobjections. Rather considerate design, one might think, offering a link straight to the objection page. Time-saving. User-centric. All that stuff.

However, if you’d used this link yesterday, you would have been redirected to a top level Penalty Charge Notices page. Which says at the top: “Make a Payment”, closely followed by “How do I avoid a penalty charge notice?” It’s hard to say which of these two are more annoying to someone who is specifically trying not to pay, and is clearly a bit past ‘avoidance’ help. Not a major crime (I suspect the link used to work, but after a bit of rejigging had become misdirected) but enough to cause a fair few people a bit of easily avoidable grrrr.

So I tweeted. Although I know some of the Camden guys, I deliberately didn’t point it at them, to see what would happen.

It got picked up.

And now it’s fixed. In less than 24 hours.

So, if you see something that’s easily fixable, do at least have a go at feeding back. It can work.