Customer Service Design Flaws

Tripp Babbitt

Call me­ a whiner and I will wear that badge publicly any chance I get. I travel a lot; 70,000 airline miles and 70-plus nights in hotels over four months. This has presented me with the opportunity to have seen the best and worse of airlines, hotels, rental cars, restaurants and wireless service. I don’t let poor service slide by as my professional purpose is to improve service.

Before I get started, let’s be clear that I never blame the front-line worker. The systems that these people work in are poorly designed and hinder their ability to provide decent service. Therefore, no worker was harmed during the writing of this article.

I could go after any number of poorly designed systems, but seeing Dan Hesse on TV evangelizing Sprint’s improved customer service makes them an easy target. This doesn’t mean the other wireless providers aren’t worthy of a good smack up-side the head, but I have been with Sprint for many years and haven’t used the other carriers.

My experience begins with a defective Blackberry that I was just hoping to replace. This is where the fun begins.

I was told that with the replacement phone I would need to activate international roaming. So, I called to do so and was told that it was already activated.

After flying to the U.K., my cell phone did not work, meaning no data and no voice. I used Sprint’s online chat option and was quickly told that I had an international problem and to contact their chat session. The phrase, "Is there anything else I can help you with?" was first used on this chat, but would be asked each time I dealt with someone from Sprint on the phone as well. The problem is that rarely did they help me solve my problem. Passing me off to the next department is not helping me. "Anything else" implies that they actually helped me.

I chatted with the Sprint international team and they promised to have someone from the Technical assistance team call me – the next day. We were able to get the phone working the next day with some tweaking.

But this solution only worked until I went to India. An attempted fix over the phone only lasted 10 minutes. Tired of all the time spent on the phone, I lived with the problem the rest of the time in India.

I returned to the U.S. a week later assuming my phone would again get data. It did not. I called technical assistance and the second I said the words "international travel," I was pushed to international technical assistance. I tried to explain to the agent that my problem was here in the U.S., but the agent would have none of it. "Is there anything else I can assist you with?" "You haven’t helped me with this problem," I retorted. Stunned silence on the other end.

I was transferred to the IVR (my readers and clients understand how much I loath IVR systems) where I navigated the tree of options to talk to international technical assistance. The line was backed up, so I waited until I got to my hotel room to do an online chat, which got my phone working again.

Anticipating future problems receiving data overseas, I called the international technical assistance line. I explained to the agent the trouble I had been experiencing. She was not able to tell me how to solve my problem or pinpoint what might be causing it.

Still, the call ended with "Is there anything else I can help you with?" and then something new – a request to rate her service excellent. I explained that I would not rate it excellent because Sprint had not solved my problem and wasted several hours of my time. Her plea for a good rating implied her geniality, not her ability to solve a problem, merited her a good rating.

I don’t blame the agents I spoke with during my episodes. Management had designed a system structured to deliver poor service. The IVR, functional separation of work, rating systems and poor scripting had all created a poor structure.

I made over 21 phone calls to resolve my issue. Some were hindered by long wait times to speak with someone or not choosing the right option in the IVR system. Everything after the first call was a "failure demand" – a demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer. And possibly the first call could be classified as a failure demand. If things had worked, I would never have needed to make the first call.

The "Is there anything else I can assist you with?" phrase had to be scripted as every agent asked the question before ending the call. However, a customer should not be asked that question – much less be asked to give a high rating – unless the issue was resolved or a service was successfully provided. It is frustrating to customers. Customer demands need to be met first. This is the purpose of a customer contact. Being nice doesn’t get you a high rating – solving or preventing a problem will.