19th December 2013

The multichannel experience: ignore it at your brand's peril

Here’s a story about a recent customer service experience I had while trying to upgrade my service with a home entertainment company.

This provider has a responsive, customer-focused website and several usable apps. Their Twitter and Facebook accounts have always provided me with quick advice when I needed it. Their phone service, while often busy, is easy to navigate.  And, in-store, their staff are usually friendly and helpful.

So, if all these channels are so good, what’s the problem? The problem is that they operate these ‘channels’ as, well, channels. Each has its own mandate, its own authority, and its own set of domain knowledge. And as long as each of these is segregated, the company will never be as user friendly as it likes to think it is.

Tunnel vision

When I went to upgrade my service I was told that I needed to provide some additional personal information for regulatory reasons. I reached for the nearest device I could find – my phone. I couldn’t update my information using their app, so I switched to their site. The site gave me an error message.

Next up, the call centre. The customer service rep advised me to pop into a store. So I did, and the following conversation ensued.

Me: Hi, I'm having trouble upgrading my service. I'm getting a 123 error.

Sales Assistant: Oh, that means they we just need proof of ID, do you have any on you?

Me: Hands over driver's licence

Sales Assistant: I'll just need to ask you a security question, what's your address?

Me: It's on my driver's licence.

Sales Assistant: I'll need you to tell me.

Me: Reads address from licence

Sales Assistant: Ok, what's your date of birth?

Me: points to DOB on licence

Sales Assistant: We'll actually need proof of address along with your photo ID.

Me: Can't you use my driver's licence as proof of address?

Sales Assistant: No, it will have to be a bank statement or utility bill.

Me: All my bills and bank statements are issued online, can I use one of those?

Sales Assistant: No, it has to have been issued in paper in the past six months.

Me: The only company that issues me with a paper bill is yourselves; can I bring in the last one you sent me?

Sales Assistant: We can’t accept our own bills as valid proof of address; it has to come from another company. And you have to send it to our head office.

Me: What’s their email?

Sales Assistant: You’ll have to send it by post.

Me: Couldn't I just bring the bill in to you?

Sales Assistant: No, it has to be posted. There's a post box just down the street.

Eventually, my issue was resolved. But, man, this left a bitter taste.

Usability wasn’t the problem: each of the channels was easy to use. The problem is that the bigger picture was neglected.

The service I needed wasn’t available on the company's app. The site wasn’t able to process my request. The phone service could only direct me to a physical store. And the store asked me to provide them with documents using a method that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1950s.

So long to silos

While each channel was crafted and optimised for the abilities and limitations of its medium, little consideration seems to have been given to how the company’s apps should work with their social accounts, or how the desktop site should operate to help their bricks and mortar stores.

Two years ago it would have been reasonable for companies to expect their customers to predominantly interact with their brand on one channel. But those days are gone. Customers now expect that they can communicate with brands seamlessly across multiple channels.

Because customers don’t see your app, your site, or your store as different channels: they just see - and experience - your brand.