Tuesday 23 March 2010

The insensitivity of process versus sanity - Shame on you Churchill and T-Mobile!

I want everyone to read this and feel as appalled as I was by the insensitivity of two major global brands, namely Churchill Insurance (owned by RBS Group) and T-Mobile.

The story is partly personal as it involves an ex-work colleague of my Wife who tragically lost his whole family in a road-traffic accident days before Christmas while they were en-route to deliver Christmas presents. The deaths affected the whole community where they lived and worked and though I did not know them personally I swear I hugged my own children a little tighter the night I heard of the tragedy.

Anyway, it seems such empathy and humanity does not exist at either Churchill OR T-Mobile, well, not initially anyway, as they forced poor Ian Owen to go through a nightmare of insensitive, customer-unfriendly process in an attempt to recover THEIR losses in respect of his late wife's car insurance policy premiums AND mobile phone contract.

The insensitivity was compounded by T-Mobile 'suggesting' that he could "transfer the mobile phone contract to that of a younger family member". Now STOP! Just for a moment and pause..... 

Imagine being asked that question by someone in a call centre and having to explain with some kind of dignity that that isn't an option because their is no longer a younger family member to transfer the contract to!

See the full article here: http://bit.ly/ddafxP

Anyway, since then, and only through the intervention of the national press, have both firms seen sense and offered Ian their apologies and promised a 'full investigation of the case'. I don't think its cynical at all to suggest that this is too little too late and frankly just not good enough. It is also not the first time (this year in particular) I have heard similar stories relating to the insensitivity of insurance companies and other service providers when handling the 'Death' process - the only people who seem genuinely good at this are, alas, Funeral directors.

But what could they have done better apart from the basics of handling a customer with respect, understanding and showing empathy at an extremely disturbing and traumatic time? I think we will all agree that even the small amount of effort required to do that would have probably been welcomed but what more could have been done? 

Could a better understanding of the customer have helped? A more complete view of the customer and their information? Undoubtedly! 

Could their internal processes have provided better guidance to the agent in terms of how to handle this situation? Yes! BUT there should also be significant enough scope in the design of the customer-facing process to allow the agent to 'step-outside' of the scripted environment AND apply appropriate levels of language, common-sense, and empathy in keeping with the situation they are dealing with rather than 'cross-selling' an alternative solution outcome that benefits the business - which is, in essence, what they were doing by suggesting he transfer the tariff.

Could the ability to manage a 'social' profile of the customer with aggregated information from additional sources (Facebook, Bebo, News Feeds) have helped? I think this capability may have provided useful insight in terms of how to handle this situation. I understand the need for an Insurance company to see a death certificate BUT I think information from other sources aggregated to the customer's file that would have allowed them to assume he was telling the truth and treat him with a degree of sensitivity rather than having to prove (twice) that his family had been killed.

It comes as no real shock to me that at the core of these businesses there is seemingly still the attitude that the customer represents no more than an Account Number. This is despite their 'customer-friendly' images - take Churchill's nodding dog as an example. Nearly 20 full years have elapsed since the inception of CRM and still the major brands are getting it very badly wrong and yet today we speak about Social CRM (something of which I am an advocate). The fact though remains that unless firms truly get the basic CRM bit right everything else they do will be built on pillars of sand.

So Churchill, question for you, "Are you a shower of incompetent, unfeeling wankers?"

"Oh Yes!"

Thursday 4 March 2010

What does Social Media and Marshall have in common?

One word - Amplification!

Let me explain.

I have been working with CRM for some 15 years now. During that time I have helped major clients implement what were, and in some cases still are, state-of-the-art customer management platforms. I have also seen CRM fail, and fail spectacularly for a whole host of reasons, too many to go into here. If I were to draw some kind of conclusion I would say that people still remain the key component to the success of any CRM-related initiative and in particular the cultural alignment and desire of the business in question to be truly customer-focused. Anyway, that discussion and debate is for another day along with topics which still rage; like Single Customer View and Multi-Channel. In particular, the multi-channel story is one that continues to prevail as customers find more and more ways to connect and demand information from their service providers.

It is with this thought that I ponder the impact of Social Media and the evolution towards what is being described as Social CRM. I use the word evolution in this context because I believe that Social CRM is not an isolated or silo-oriented thing, it is a natural evolution from something that was, and still is, but is leaner, smarter and better equipped to survive in a rapidly evolving customer-driven ecosystem.

If we look at the impact of social media first it is very clear that it has driven a sea-change in the way that people communicate and the way that information is shared. As a pure media platform it has made 'shooting' stars ('shooting' as such fame often shares the same trajectory and fleeting wonder of a shooting star) of very ordinary people doing, at times, extra-ordinary things.

There are not many people in the western world who didn't hear about Susan Boyle - within 48 hours of appearing on a British talent show to some 8 Million TV viewers she was transformed into a global phenomenon with over 100 Million views of her performance on YouTube. Amplification.

Twitter as a media platform is a further example of how information sharing has been amplified through social media. Forget about all  the horrible Z-list celebrities there for a second, Twitter is a bloggers paradise. Twitter has allowed like-minded bloggers to share their thought-leadership, form communities and drive important debate and discussion and have such content amplified through the wonder of the 'Re-Tweet'. Not a bad way to build a bit of personal brand-awareness.

In all of the social media hype though I often wrestle with the following pseudo-philosophical questions:

"Has Social Media resulted in an overall increase in creativity?"
"Are there now more genuinely creative people in the world or have they always been there but without the means to be discovered?"

Now, just for a moment or two, consider the implication of those questions. I am asking specifically has more creativity happened because of social media or merely the discovery of creativity that already existed. Does social media, in itself, represent a platform for innovation and creativity, or is it merely a platform for amplification? Answers on a postcard (or comments) please ;-))

And so to CRM and Social CRM. How can businesses begin to cope with the Social CRM challenge thrust upon them by these new 'social' channels.

If we accept, and this may be difficult for some business models to accept, (e.g. I now work exclusively in Financial Services) that the customer is in control then the amplification of customer experiences and peer to peer exchange of information is both powerful and dangerous. Managed well it can enhance positive sentiment towards a Brand, managed poorly the negative connotations can destroy a reputation.

Both myself and my good friend Laurence Buchanan recently experienced completely separate "success" stories by using social channels to provoke a satisfactory response after giving up on the companies traditional communication channels. You can read the blogs here - Jamie's BlogLaurence's Blog

Though the outcomes may have resulted in eventual satisfaction (though eventual being a key word in my case) what it did highlight was the isolation of these channels in terms of pure Customer Experience Management. Whilst we eventually received either the answers or the service we were looking for from the respective companies the actual resolutions came from the fact that our messages became amplified through the Social channels before someone stepped in to resolve, more as a damage limitation exercise I suspect than evidence of a truly customer-centric organisation. Certainly neither could be upheld as examples of Social CRM.

Two recent posts (or RTs) on the #scrm channel on Twitter caught my eye today as both seemed to underline a very key point. The first is by Natalie Petouhoff (or @drnatalie on Twitter) http://bit.ly/cOdRMg - title The Social Customer Economy. The second is by Prem Kumar Aparanji (or @prem_K on Twitter) http://bit.ly/b9bJOm - title Dumbing down Social CRM. To me, Social CRM represents an extension of CRM. It cannot work in isolation, it needs to be part of an overall multi-channel, cross-channel, CRM strategy where a customer communication can begin in one channel and seamlessly transfer to another at the convenience of the customer. 'Integration' of social channels is therefore the key to success than merely the channel alone.

As a footnote to the post I want to say that having heard various definitions of what SCRM entails over the last few months we need to ensure that, as a community, a consistent message evolves that is understood by all and not fall prey to the misconception that a 'social' tag on the front of CRM represents an isolated, channel specific, customer-management strategy.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

A tale of two experiences...

I have quite a few people to thank in this blog. Those of you who have been following my tale of eternal woe in navigating the non customer-friendly experience I have endured with FirstScotrail, FirstGroup, TheTrainline etc will be cheered to know that the saga is ALMOST at an end. By the latest counting, including today, we are now sitting at 73 days and counting, an additional 19 days since my '54 days and counting' Patience rip-off (http://www.twitvid.com/CB1AB).

The people I want to thank for directly contributing comments and propogating this sorry tale by re-tweeting and blogging are as follows @dahowlett (Hope to see you at EMEA Sapphire), @buchanla, @mhdpartnership, @sharpsharp, and @TheFactCompiler, also thanks to those of you who left comments on the original blog (http://collsdad.blogspot.com/2010/02/first-scotrail-and-curse-of-shitty.html)

This all resulted in a direct contact from my new friends at TheTrainline who were able to take ownership of the problem and with open communication and courtesy have endeavoured to resolve the issue (FULL refund PLUS £20 goodwill gesture). In the interests of completeness I will, hopefully, conclude this tale but with some very direct conclusions which I sincerely hope FirstScotrail heed.

#FAIL 1 - When allowing people to book online you provide a service which allows the customer to cancel their booking. Clicking on this link then directs you to a phone number with the message - sorry we were unable to complete your request.

#FAIL 2 - When calling the call centre you are told that the refund request has been raised but they are NEVER able to confirm this to you by email or provide a reference number linked to the request.

#FAIL 3 - The call centre seem entirely unable to manage customer expactations appropriately and can provide NO insight into the status of such requests.

#FAIL 4 - The web service channel provides a reference number but as witnessed by the customer experience I have endured is unable to offer ANY resolution at all other than continue to provide vague, standard responses to queries.

#FAIL 5 - ONLY when asked for the issue to be escalated was I then directed to FirstGroup's customer service department, a completely separate entity.

#FAIL 6 - On logging my complaint online I was sent a standard response along with my Case Reference Number that it may take up to 7 days to reply.

#FAIL 7 - Do not send standard customer service responses from a DO_NOT_REPLY@ address. This was the straw that broke the camels back and led to the video.

#FAIL 8 - When you say you are going to respond within 7 working days please do this.

#FAIL 9 - Despite very good communication with the TheTrainline a 'manual input error' has led to me still awaiting my full refund despite getting the £20 goodwill gesture credited to my account. I am assured that will go through this week - hooray!

And a final note, and possibly #FAIL 10, at the same time as all this was kicking off ScotRail was issuing self-congratulatory PR talking about their punctuality and customer satisfaction ratings of 90%. There is no point in self-promoting your punctuality and satisfaction ratings when it seems you are NOT engaged with the social channels which would provide a healthy dose of reality to any statistic you create. Every day since I blogged on my experience I read #Scotfail #FirstScotrail and #Scotrail comments on Twitter and I certainly did NOT see anything approaching 90% satisfaction, occasionally though there was surprise and astonishment that the trains were either NOT crowded or ON-TIME.

If you want to know how to do things the right way, look no further than here (http://collsdad.blogspot.com/2010/02/thank-you-activision-support.html) then hang your head in shame.

Thursday 4 February 2010

First ScotRail and the curse of the Shitty Customer Experience

I have just had, and actually am continuing to have, a pretty appalling customer-service experience with ScotRail regarding a refund for cancelled train journey. It’s got to a pretty ludicrous stage so I thought I should share.

It seems to me a classic example of a business which has clearly outsourced it’s sales and service efforts to a third-party as no individual I have communicated with seems able to actually take ownership of the problem and solve it. It also raises questions about the ‘cross-channel’ capabilities of the business as it seems that requests get lost between the different internal stakeholders...or maybe they simply just don’t care, you decide!

Below is a chronological diary of the events. Please bear in mind that these events followed 3 calls to the Indian-based call centre which although perfectly pleasant yielded absolutely no results.


13th December 2009 AM - Bought a full fare, fully refundable, sleeper ticket with ScotRail for a journey to be taken on 16th December. Cost £118.50.

14th December 2009 AM - Cancelled journey with ScotRail and raised refund request. Was told that this would take around 10 working days as the refund would need to be ‘manually’ requested. There would also be a £10 cancellation fee meaning that the total refund would be £108.50 which I accepted.

Waited until after Christmas (27th December 2009) and called the contact centre to be told that there was no new information, refund application was being processed, but that the money should be refunded by 10th January.

Called again after the 10th January 2010 to be told that it was in process and that I would receive an email when the refund had taken place.

Waited another couple of days and called the contact centre again to be told that my ‘case’ had now been escalated. Until this point I was unaware that it was a ‘case’ but there you go. At this point I looked for alternative contact details as I felt that I was really getting nowhere with the contact centre. There now follows the communication flow, I have divided this into Rounds so that you can see the communication that has taken place at each stage.


Customer (Jamie Anderson)
15/01/2010 01:42 PM
I have been awaiting a refund for my journey above (due 16th December) that was cancelled by telephone on the 13th December. I have called the call centre several times now. The last time I was assured that the refund would take place on the 10th January 2010. Having checked with my credit card company I notice that the funds have still not reached my Account.
I have just called again to be told that my case has now been escalated. Could someone please look into this asap as I need to settle my credit card statement and am currently unable to do so and will incur additional charges.
Many thanks,
Jamie Anderson

Response (William Scott)
15/01/2010 08:12 PM
Dear Jamie,
Thank you for contacting First ScotRail.
I apologise for the inconvenience caused to you.
Your refund request has already been forwarded to our refund department as soon as we receive any update from them we will get back to you.
We appreciate your patience and sincerely hope that this matter will be resolved at the earliest opportunity.
I hope this information is helpful. Please let us know if you should have any further questions. We will be glad to assist you.
Kind regards,

ROUND 1 VERDICT: It’s really a stalemate at this point. First opportunity to test the multi-channel capabilities of ScotRail so nothing to report. My feeling at the time was, ‘look this is not the best customer experience I have ever had but I’ll give them the chance to put it right’


Customer (Jamie Anderson)
22/01/2010 10:12 PM
This situation is still not resolved. My credit card company have not received this payment which is now outstanding well beyond the time I would deem acceptable for a refund. I am unable to pay my credit card bill in full as I am still awaiting this refund hitting my Account.
I want to know what First Group and Scotrail are prepared to do to ensure that this refund reaches my account before the 27th January. If not I will inevitably incur additional charges which are not of my making and for which I would expect to be compensated, not to mention the number of calls to the Customer Support team.
This process has been handled very poorly and I cannot understand why it is taking so long to manage a simple refund request.
Please advise me asap of the status of this refund.
Jamie Anderson

Response (William Scott)
22/01/2010 10:56 PM
Dear Jamie,
Thank you for writing back to us.
I apologise for inconvenience caused to you.
I have checked your account and confirm that due to the unusually high volume of refund requests, there has been a small delay in processing your refund. We expect to have credited your bank account as soon as possible.
I hope this information is helpful. Please let us know if you should have any further questions. We will be glad to assist you.
Kind regards,

ROUND 2 VERDICT: It’s pretty clear that I am getting roundly f*cked about here. I am not even grateful for the apology at this stage, it’s just words and the usual blah-blah response. An ‘unusually high number of refund requests’ being the issue creating the ‘small delay’ now that is pissing me off now. A SMALL delay?!?


Customer (Jamie Anderson)
23/01/2010 02:56 PM
I'm sorry but I do not view 41 days as a 'small delay'. As I stated in my previous communication I need this money in my account by 27th January. Please advise when this will be re-imbursed.
Jamie Anderson

Response (Carter)
23/01/2010 03:37 PM
Dear Jamie,
Thank you for contacting us again.
I have raised this case with our Refunds Department. They would investigate this case and would provide you a speedy response. I assure that they would resolve this issue at the earliest opportunity.
I appreciate your patience in this matter.
Kind regards,

ROUND 3 VERDICT: Hmmm...’thank you for contacting us again’. This response drips of sarcasm but I console myself with the fact that at least my name is not Carter. I do make the point though that 41 days is ridiculous which makes me feel a bit better but as they ‘appreciate my patience’ I’m sure they simply couldn’t give a f*ck. Another Round to Scotrail!


Customer (Jamie Anderson)
29/01/2010 02:42 PM
I have STILL not received this refund. I want to know the following:
1. Why is it taking so long?
2. When will I receive my money back?
3. I want this complaint escalated IMMEDIATELY to someone who can resolve this for me.
I do not want a 'we will look into it response' I want a response that tells me exactly when I will be getting my money back.
This service has been a total and utter disgrace and I have now been waiting 47 calendar days to have my account recredited.
Jamie Anderson

Response (Andrew Woods)
29/01/2010 05:56 PM
Dear Jamie,
Thank you for writing back to us.
I am sorry to learn that you have not received a refund till now.
I have raised this matter with the Refunds Department as it is still under investigation. I understand your dissatisfaction as it is taking a long time for this procedure.
Furthermore, I acknowledge your feedback about this matter. I have passed your feedback to the appropriate team to ensure this issue is addressed promptly.
I understand that your experience with us has not been good. However I assure you that at First ScotRail, it is our constant endeavour to meet and exceed our customer's expectations and sincerely hope you will give us another opportunity to serve you better in the future.
Kind regards,

ROUND 4 VERDICT: Another Round to Scotrail but at least someone with a sensible name this time. They still have my money and they are right they have exceeded my expectations. My expectation was that they were marginally incompetent but perhaps well meaning. Now I think they are just a shower of c*nts.


Date: Thursday 4th February 2010 10:15:23 +0000
Subject: Failure to provide Refund [Incident: 100115-002362]

This unacceptable situation continues and I STILL have not received my refund.
Current number of days outstanding since this issue was raised: 53 DAYS!!!
I have reported this to my credit card company who will now act to recover the funds unless this refund is repaid immediately.
Customer Service is non-existent. No-one has provided a helpful response. Not a single telephone call from anyone who is able to help. Calls to the contact centre have went with no resolution. Emails are also given standard responses which are unhelpful. Nobody has accepted any responsibility for this situation and a such nothing has been resolved.
I believe that ScotRail has acted if not in a fraudulent, at least immoral, manner by taking money from me and not upholding its side of the contract. I am extremely disappointed.
Next step for me is to publicise this shocking case of customer relationship mis-management. I could not possibly allow anyone else to suffer this disgraceful lack of customer service.
Please advise on when this case will be resolved.
Jamie Anderson

VERDICT: Good points well made. Let's see! Look, embarrassing though it is I have to accept that First ScotRail have shafted me but really what do I expect, they’ve been doing this to their poor customers for years; jamming them into trains between Scotland’s 2 major cities with limited seating accommodation, failing to turn up on time, reducing network services. At least in that context my experience is an isolated one but one I am happy to publicise in solidarity for everyone they have shafted, and continue to shaft, over the years!