Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Don’t be Fooled - Back Office Systems DO Touch your Customers

I have been a UX Designer on many customer support applications, most recently Zendesk, so I have more than a passing interest when I contact customer support for myself. A good application like Zendesk certainly is important but I am always reminded of how the company's back office systems play a huge role in the customer's experience. My own recent experience doing a simple service change to my AT&T landline was such a good example I had to share it. Beyond the frustration it ends up costing the customer real money and fundamentally affects their view of the company and even leads one to question the motives of the company.

Over the years, due to wireless phones, VoIP, web conference software, FAX services, etc,. my business landlines have dwindled down to one. Since I am old school I kept that last one around and figured the $75.00 a month was worth the emergency backup and convenience.  I would periodically call AT&T to ask if there was a way to reduce the cost, perhaps by removing the features like voicemail which we never use on this line. I was always told this was the cheapest I could go. Finally I decided to discontinue the line since I rarely use it.

My customer experience with AT&T begins.

July 22. I call customer service to discontinue the landline. Suddenly I am told that there is a different plan that would keep everything the same except for Caller ID and Voicemail for $35.00. Despite being annoyed that this option did not appear till I actually tried to disconnect I went for it.

July 23. I happened to try and make a long distance call on the landline and find I have no long distance carrier. I call AT&T customer service and they put it back on as it was before the removal.

July 28. Online bill posted and is more than I was quoted and is marked as Past Due. Long Distance Flat Rate Service is on the bill as expected but an additional charge of $8.00 WirePro (their insurance on the wires in the building) is added as a line item. I call and have the WirePro charge removed and ask why if I am on autopay is the bill Past Due. They have no clear explanation but tell me it is some quirk on how the billing was done and there is no consequence (other than telling me I have a past due bill - first one I have ever had).

August 10. Online bill posted and seems close enough to what I was quoted so not worth further investigation. At least it did not say Past Due.

September 11. Online bill posted considerably higher than previous bill. I take a look at the bill and I am being charged for long distance minutes.

September 16. I call customer service to see what is going on. I relay my sad story emphasizing that it was their agent that made the offer that started this comedy of errors and while the money is not significant as a User Experience Designer I would love to understand what was going on. The agent was knowledgeable and motivated so we proceeded to do a post mortem.

Results of the Post Mortem.

When you downgrade a package the agent must manually turn off the features. Things like the WirePro were not made obvious to the agent  so they were left on without her knowing.

Unlimited long distance is not available for my new plan. Because of this, long distance did not have to be manually turned off like WirePro so she did not know it was removed. The difference between long distance being turned off and the other charges that were left on were close enough that it was not obvious that something was amiss and the agent thought she had done what was requested. When long distance was turned back on it was not clear it was a different product than I previously had.

Above all this at the end of every call I asked for an itemization of what I had and what my bill would be. I was given a specific number (not including taxes) but many items like the WirePro charge did not appear in any obvious way. It was clear the system did not give a full accounting of the account. Any reasonable accounting would certainly have caught the WirePro charge and should have caught the long distance discrepancy.

We never were able to completely get to the bottom on the Past Due notice. It had something to do with the way the change were applied to the bill that triggered the Past Due notice. However, who does not enjoy getting a Past Due notice?

At the end of this call I asked to again discontinue service. This time when I was sent to "loyalty" to disconnect I suddenly was offered a package that gave me everything I originally had for $24.00 instead of the $75.00 I originally was paying. This was a year promotion and they could not tell me what my bill will go up to at that time but I should call back then and see what I can negotiate.

What went wrong.

As a UX Designer the most objective cause I can apply to this is that the “back office” systems were not merely poorly designed for the agent they ignored the fact that the customer was a second equally important user of the system.

I suspect that even the agent was not the most important persona in the design. The most important "user" was the database that drove rules for data integrity not human consumption.

If you review the mistakes that were made not only were they hard to discover because of inferior design but they were always the result of decisions that favored AT&T not the customer. Thus I assert that a primary driver for the requirements and testing protocols was the profit margin.

I suspect this is not news to AT&T and that they have calculated that they make more this way than providing good customer service.

My next post will be on my experience with a company that has made the opposite decision.

As an aside I have my business wireless account with AT&T including several iPhones, iPads etc., My experience in the wireless world has been just as bad and my recent experience with the much smaller valued landline has prompted me to finally move my relatively large monthly cost businesses account off of AT&T. I have to assume that Steve Jobs is spinning in his grave knowing what our customer experience is using his beautiful phone.

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