Don’t Burden your Customers with Your Problems

Towards the end of 2003, I received a letter from my digital satellite TV provider informing me that I needed to “upgrade” the SmartCard that goes into the decoder. It sounded simple enough, but I did wonder why this was necessary since I had become a new subscriber only two months before, at the beginning of September.

The letter, and all subsequent communications via TV magazines and channel broadcasts, kept reminding me that this was for my own good, as services would be upgraded, and, as the time approached for the changeover, their tone became increasingly more urgent.

There were times when the messages verged on the aggressive, especially when a young thug by the name of Brad, who had achieved some fifteen days of fame on “Big Brother”, started pointing a finger in my face (on TV, of course,) and telling me he would come and sort me out if I didn’t comply.

Being a good citizen, and a responsible member of society, I decided to use my free time during the Christmas holidays to sort this out. The instructions seemed pretty clear: fill in this form, take it with your ID and “old” SmartCard to one of their offices, and in three minutes it will all be over.

The first time I went in, having driven from the east side of Johannesburg into Randburg, there was absolute chaos in the parking lot of the head office. Not being someone who tolerates queues at all well, I made a quick U-turn, and returned home in shock. The next day I telephoned first, and was told that the situation was the same. “But,” the young lady informed me, “If you get in early the queues are much shorter.”

A few days later, I took her advice, but imagine my disappointment when I discovered that things were now worse: the queues at their offices were now outside the door. It seems like the threats were now being taken very seriously by all the millions of subscribers. I made a quick escape again.

By now the advertisements were being broadcast every few minutes on all the available channels, and the threats were clear: “If you don’t swap your card before the end of the year, you will not be able to watch satellite TV!” This was now becoming very urgent.

But it was also at this point that I started hearing the rumours about why millions of subscribers were saddled with this headache: It seems that the service provider was experiencing some problems with pirate viewers, and had decided to burden their customers with the solution. This was confirmed for me eventually when, after standing in a queue for almost 45 minutes in a shopping centre just before the final shutdown, the assistant told me the truth about why this was all necessary.

I was furious. How dare they waste my time like his when I paid – then – in excess of R300 a month for the service. How dare they inconvenience me in my special time of the year with their problem. Why could the management team n this business come up with a better solution, such as sending new SmartCards by registered mail?

Therefore, when the same request was made in 2009 by the same company, I almost had an apoplexy! I couldn’t believe that they would try the same trick again. This time however, I wrote to them repeatedly, until I got a response. I threatened to sue them if they dared to cut me off, and stated in the strongest terms that if 1% of their customers were watching illegally, they should not burden me. I demanded that, since I was now paying about R600 per month for my TV, they should replace my SmartCard at their expense and at a place convenient to me – my home.

And guess what? Within 10 days my brand new SmartCard arrived by courier, and I was politely asked to destroy the old card. I did feel a twinge of guilt because this aggressive response is completely out of character for me, and I was sad that I had to resort to being rebellious when I am a good customer.

Of course, this business of weighing down customers with your problems is not unique to one company. The banks burden me with hundreds of rules which are there for their protection, not mine. The airlines burden me with their process issues by asking me to “hurry up and wait” at the gate where we are all due to board, and to wait even longer when one passenger delays the whole aeroplane for whatever reason. If I go in for a medical procedure, then the hospital administrators ask me to get pre-approvals from my medical aid company involving hours of waiting for a clerk to respond to my request.

Call centres burden me with their problems when staff have not been properly trained, and when they don’t have enough people to answer my queries on time. IT companies burden me with their inability to properly test hardware and software before selling it to the customer. My cell phone service provider burdens me because they refuse to build more masts in areas where I know I will be cut off from my calls. Various companies burden me with supplying municipal statements to prove that I still live where I have lived for the past twent-eight years.

Need I continue?

Here is the lesson: Look at all the systems, processes, rules, procedures, training, and all the other things that impact on the moments of truth in your business. Then ask this question: are we in some way burdening our customers with what should actually be only our problem? Yes, there may be some things that are needed for the profitable running of your business, some elements that must be there. But do whatever you can to ensure that customers are protected from these, and please work constantly on making life easier, not more difficult, for your customers.

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