The opposite of digital: spending the millions, forgetting the customer
A few weeks ago I had one of those holidays that should have been simple but ended up requiring military levels of planning to get from one place to the next. Part of the reason for this is the fallacy of interconnectedness when it comes to travel, as anyone who doesn’t live in a capital city already knows and anyone, like me, trying to travel between two popular destinations finds out.
The user journey is linear: tourist leaves hub for destination, returns to hub. The end. Either alternative personas are deemed non profitable or nobody thought of them, fancy that.
But the hours I spent at airports are not what this piece is about.
Because during the course of my travels I found myself dealing with mishaps. Normal, common, trite mishaps. Exactly the sort of mishaps those who work in the travel industry are meant to deal with every day. And you would think that the tools they develop and the commercial models they build around said tools would reflect this commonality.
But you would be so wrong.
As a banker I took heart, I won’t lie to you. It was good to know we are not alone in getting such things wrong.
As a customer, my emotions ranged from rage to a few mirthless laughs.
You don’t (want to) know what kind of day they are having
The last thing you want on a holiday that entails six flights in eight days, is for the airline to move your flights to an entirely new time and day, ping you an email informing you of that fact hours before you set off, with no ability to respond to the email, no live chat, formulaic “please call our help line” responses on social media and only local numbers in a different time zone available on the website. By the time I had to leave for the airport I had explored all options and still had no answers, so I thought I would deal with this in person, at their home airport, between flights.
As we got to the airport and joined a 12-person queue for customer service, my husband was giving me pep talks while we waited: “it’s not their fault they have no two-way digital channels, don’t forget the employee behind the counter is just the messenger and you don’t know what kind of day they are having”.
He is a painfully nice guy, my husband.
But as the people behind the counter kept walking off and the 12-person queue took two hours and 20 minutes to service, I had plenty of time to explain to him that one of the amazing things about digital customer service is that I shouldn’t have to account for what kind of day the service representative is having because I am the customer and it’s all about my day right now.
Not because I am worth more as a human but because I paid for a service that is currently going wrong and they are getting paid to help me, irrespective of what day they are having.
And if the digital channels had gone beyond marketing, we wouldn’t be stuck in a queue that doesn’t move discussing the quality of our respective days. And I wouldn’t have to be faced, at the end of a long wait, with a man popping gum and throwing his hands in the air saying “I don’t know, call the helpline”.
Not being funny but we digitise to spare the customer the pain of having to understand how you structure your organisation and who is responsible for what, in order to get their problem solved. We digitise so your staff don’t have to improve their manners.
Because, dear Iberia, do you know what would have happened if your social media folks had been allowed to help, if you had a live chat or email inbox that worked? I would have resolved the issue in whatever way was possible in a matter of moments, not days, I wouldn’t still be thinking let alone writing about this and I would have spent the three hours of queuing shopping at Madrid Barajas airport and not making faces for the irate Italians taking pictures of the queue to post on social media. Opportunity lost. Revenue lost. Customer satisfaction sub zero. But great that you have a bilingual twitter account that can tell me in real time and two languages to call the helpline.
Needless to say, that is not what your digital channels are for.
Let me explain to you how making money works
I admit that was painful, but the pain is not the point.
I also had a comedy moment that highlights the same problem, on the same trip.
Picture me standing at a hotel reception (since the cancelled flight left us in a different city to where our reservations were and needing a home for the night) and booking a room on my phone because the receptionist was unable to give me the rate I saw online and unwilling to get her manager to find out whether there was a way around the system she had been trained on that would give me service and them margin.
She could probably sense a lecture on monetising distribution channels and calibrating book-keeping to not stand in the way of customer centricity coming on! I was ready, but (you guessed it) the husband was gently singing “let it go” in the background and tugging me away.
He has a point.
But he is fighting a losing battle with me because let’s face it, fixing this is the smurf village to my Gargamel.
What do my bad experience with Iberia, the Oporto hotel (that allowed the way they manage accounting for different sales channels to cause them a 30% net revenue loss on my booking) and digitising banking analogue services have in common? Three things. Three simple things that hurt a lot:
- Digitisation is about orchestration around the user.
In some cases it means real-time reaction to the email informing me about the change to my flight or giving the customer service representative the same tools the phone centre have to deal with my query since I am standing in front of them.
Or it may mean having fluctuating but integrated pricing so that the receptionist doesn’t have to watch me book a room on my phone while standing in front of her and four of her colleagues whose salaries seem like an unnecessary overhead for a minute there. It’s not about speed. It’s about user centricity. And not expecting the customer to understand how your company works, to do business with you.
- You can’t just digitise the bits that suit you.
You can book a flight online but can’t ask a question online because the back end systems are creaky and the technology required to extract the data and create an executable in real time is not where we want to spend our money as a corporate.
You digitise your partner network because it is not a choice given how the industry is moving but you allow for the pricing they offer to be a different P&L with different margins leaving the customer to absorb the brand dissonance and time waste.
And if, as a banker, you feel relieved that other industries are also messing this up, don’t. More industries being bad at this doesn’t make us comparatively better. It just means we have company while the digital natives show us up.
- Your digital offering needs to wrap around the customer not because you love them but because you love the revenue they bring.
So offer the service that maximises customer retention, referrals and up-selling. Opportunities soundly missed in the examples above are also regularly missed when it comes to banking services.
How your e-channels hurt your digitisation
I have said it before and I fear I will be saying it for a long time to come. Money is not a dirty word.
Talk about money.
Talk about making money.
Understand where your customer makes you money and what may cause them to spend less, make you less (not always the same thing as the receptionist at the Oporto hotel found out by pushing me to book via an agent who took a hefty commission because she couldn’t match the price that her corporate overlords had agreed on for online distribution but not in-person reservations), because your service is so terrible they will abandon their basket, take their custom elsewhere or get so annoyed that they will take all their business elsewhere and tell their friends.
The wonderful Sarah Kocianski has written about the dangers of putting digital lipstick on a proverbial analogue pig and I don’t need to revisit the topic.
What she said.
My point is much less subtle this time anyway: the biggest challenge with digitisation is that it becomes a negotiation between your present self and your transforming self. Digital natives don’t have this problem.
Anyone who made enough money in the analogue era to face the challenge of needing to digitise, inevitably has to answer the very mundane question of ‘where to put it’.
Now get your mind out of the gutter and think of the practicalities.
You are running a business. You get the fact that the future is digital. You are prepared to invest and you are prepared to change. But nobody told you the first thing you need to change is your org structure, reporting lines and P&L booking.
You thought that would come last and you are busily working in that direction.
You are spending and investing and creating new roles and expanded remits within your current business structure. So you treat your new capabilities as IT projects, new channels, products that may behave differently but fall into the familiar boxes of running your business because you need to put them somewhere and that will do for now. And when the old and new clash, you make exceptions (such as differential pricing on and off line). And when you realise just how much work needs to be done to digitise, you cut corners (such as refusing to use social media for customer support) and pray for time.
And before long the people running the new initiatives need to meet the same metrics and reporting responsibilities as their analogue brothers plus they want a bonus thank you very much so they will do good work but they will also play the game.
So every incremental triumph you celebrate in the office, is a moment of weirdness for the client.
Why can I make payments using your chatbot but not get the interest information I need for my tax return? The fact that it is a different department is not a good answer.
Why do you offer me different products, rates and solutions in-branch, online and on the phone? Your profitability matrix and P&L ownership is not my problem.
Why does your digital transformation feel like it is less about me, as a customer, and much more about you as a business? Why does it feel like an exercise in keeping as much of the way you used to do things as possible? Because that is exactly what it is.
Digitisation is about re-imagining what we do, with fewer technical restrictions, to put the client at the heart of delivery, to eliminate steps that were only necessary in the absence of better tools.
Digital needs APIs and an army of UX folks and data scientists and infrastructure investment. But it is about much more than that.
And no matter how much technology you throw at it, putting yourself above the client is the opposite of digital. It may have made you money once upon a time but it isn’t how we do things in the digital world. In fact, forget the tech: this is the real change and why your old organisation needs to change.
It’s also a terrible idea because without customers willing to pay, be sold to and stick around, you and your complex P&L are exactly nowhere. And while you are busy sorting out your internal feuds, the customers are getting impatient, the digital natives are growing up and time is running out.
Hate to brake this to you but until you put the customer first, your analogue self is winning, despite the transformation price tag.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
Leda is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both start-ups and banks over the years. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!