Ok, I’m convinced – technology alone can’t do customer service!

5 Sep
Vimbar Promo

Vimbar Promo

I am a big proponent of technology. By education, then a large-ish part of work, and ofcourse just by being a modern urban consumer, I interact with and appreciate it all the time. Having said that, there are times when I wish that it were possible to find that optimal mix of “human” vs “technology” in our day to day dealings.

In an earlier post, I had actually argued that one needs better technology to enable better customer service. This one is almost a contradiction.

I don’t do rant posts generally. This one may look like a rant – and it’s not really (not high enough stakes I guess), it’s just disappointment that even a company I really like and admire, with a winner promo, gets the “last mile” fulfilment wrong! 😦 (See another earlier post on Customer Service and man vs. machine, which has another example of last mile not working)

Background: A popular dishwash brand recently ran a promo – recognising that dishwashing in India is generally done by domestic helpers, who all now have prepaid mobile phones (India has anywhere from 3/4 of a billion to 900 million mobile subscriptions – roughly 70 – 75% of total pop, and 95% of these are pre-paid). The promo essentially offered 10/- mobile recharge – with varying degrees of certainty, depending on pack sizes. So, the 10/- bar had 1 in 3 probability of winning, and the larger ones had everyone winning.

I picked this up, and the delight on both my helpers’ faces when I explained the scheme to them was to be seen to be believed! They got very excited and ripped open one of the 12 packs I had bought after understanding from me how the scheme worked. They turned the wrapper inside out/ left and right/ asked me to do the same….no unique code anywhere! Ripped open a couple more packs – same result. Big disappointment! So, I got the consumer care mail id from the pack, and wrote in my problem. First time ever, actually! The mail trail post that is self explanatory!

Happy Consumers

Happy Consumers

August 29, 2014 9:02:58 AM:
ME:
Hi,
I bought the 10/- vim bar which showed the 10/- recharge scheme. Bought 12 – thinking would give it to my domestic help.
She got HUGELY excited – so its a cool scheme πŸ™‚ But, we couldn’t find the code – the pack said, Find code inside and then call the number. But, scratching the pack doesnt reveal a number – there is no number embossed on the bar itself (which is what I had expected), and there isnt anything printed on the inside of the pack – neither was there any slip or something with the number.
Would you please let me know where the number is supposed to be? I guess I can go to a retailer to find out – but since I shop most often at a supermarket, not sure the sales guys will know abt it…
THanks much
Regards

August 29, 2014 9:16:17
ME: (In response to very prompt email that came from care center)
Given below
On Aug 29, 2014, at 9:03 AM, wrote:
Dear Consumer,
Thank you for contacting the Levercare team. Your query is important to us and will be dealt with one of our team member within the next 48 hours. Kindly note your reference number 4001957190 as an acknowledgement of your email and quote this for all further communications.
If your query is related to one of our product, we request you to provide us with the below details such that we can help resolve the query better.

1) Name with Surname : Sangita Joshi
2) Contact Details (mobile / land line) : xxxyyyy
3) Complete Address : mmmnnn
4) Product Details (name, variant & size) : Vim Bar – 10/-
5) Batch Code of the Product (number stamped on the back / base of the product) : xxxyyyy
6) With a full description of your query: I bought the 10/- vim bar which showed the 10/- recharge scheme.
Bought 6 – thinking would give it to my domestic help……

September 1, 2014 3:17:01 PM
ME again, in response to email in string below!
Doesn’t look like you have read the actual query 😦
On Aug 30, 2014, at 5:08 PM, wrote:

Dear Sir/Madam,
Thank you for contacting Consumer Care cell of Hindustan Unilever Limited.
Kindly provide me the following details to log your complain:
Your Mobile Number :
Missed Call number dialled :
Date & Time of Entry :
Mobile Number Portability :
Service Provider :

THEM:
September 3, 2014 4:46:29 PM
Dear Sangita,
Thank you for contacting Consumer Care cell of Hindustan Unilever Limited.
To help us investigate this matter further, we need this information from you. Could you please email us back with the following information?
Your Mobile Number :
Missed Call number dialled :
Date & Time of Entry :
Mobile Number Portability :
Service Provider :

ME: No action! What do you expect! It looked like getting into an endless loop, and I don’t really have the desire or the time to keep following up.

Lesson learnt: Automation will only achieve so much – you need at some point in time to escalate to the next level, which I assume is actual – human – people! (To be fair to the guys, maybe their business logic does escalate – but after another round of complaints – I don’t know/ am not willing to find out!)

The underlying business issue here is that of correct segmentation/ tiering of the customer – which then allows the organisation to respond to the customers per importance/ urgency. It’s the criticality vs. doability matrix. So, at first level, assign the cheaper technology options, but build in intelligence (context) and then response mechansims such that you are able to identify the increased attention (or not) that you need to provide the customer. In absence of this, you have disappointment/ disillusionment, maybe disinterest in future purchases! (I will for sure never pick up the 12 bars I did together – and my helpers may even switch brands the next time they go grocery shopping for me!)

I think great recent examples of human aided (what else, roll eyes…) customer service were as seen by Amazon and Netflix ! Truly commendable!

My ex business partner Debjani Deb has recently built this really cool product that does exactly the above – but for in mobile app support! Her company ZineOne essentially tiers app users by context and criticality, and helps organisations therefore offer appropriate levels of customer service to their customers. (Think how frustrating it is in the mobile app world, when you are looking to undertake a real time transaction, say book movie tickets HERE and NOW, and have the app crash on you! If you are stuck in a traffic jam just outside the movie hall, you NEED to purchase that ticket RIGHT THEN! A customer service response even 3 hours later will not help you, AND will lose revenue for the movie company! ZineOne’s product helps the booking app detect that your situation is critical and needs escalation – thus improving overall customer experience! Love it!)

Coming back to my slower/ less time critical Packaged Goods industry, my helper did find the unique code in another bar, called the number, (see, I really liked that the company had thought enough about their target audience to say “give missed call, and you will get a call back!”) got the return call, answered the survey, AND found out that she was the unlucky 66%. This end of the fulfillment was really nicely done – she loved the importance of receiving the call, of punching out numbers for the survey and the ease of the whole exercise.

So, the “marketing/ sales promotion” guys had done their job well – the customer care people just didn’t get their act together quickly enough!

Another common organisational anomaly!

As for me, I ended up buying some recharges for my 2 girls just to get them over their disappointment – so, no big deal πŸ™‚

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4 Responses to “Ok, I’m convinced – technology alone can’t do customer service!”

  1. Nisha September 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    so true! its quite frustrating to get the attention of customer service… waiting in the “queue” for eons and finally getting someone to answer our query.. only to find that your call is either disconnected or transferred multiple times…. to get a quicker response sometimes social media helps…….. i am just curious to know if the customer service ever replied back to you πŸ™‚

    • joshsang September 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

      The replies are embedded in the post – worth nothing! It was a bot, you see, so cdnt get past std template!

  2. gowrink September 6, 2014 at 12:41 am #

    Well, the people in customer support at most places aren’t often much better – it’s usually a surprise to find a customer support person act/talk like a human and/or move away from standard responses. SR (the husband) is perpetually at war with one or the other mobile service provider and has to wade through a pool of standardized responses before he gets anywhere. πŸ™‚

    • joshsang September 6, 2014 at 7:22 am #

      Yes, agree. The headline shd have said ONLY tech cant do cust serv πŸ™‚

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