Published in Energy/Utilities

Keeping the Front Lines Blind, Deaf, and Dumb Is No Longer an Option

Let me tell you a quick, personal story and then bring the moral of that story back home with a key takeaway for those of us who practice customer experience work in our own organizations.

At home, my wife and I enjoy watching cable television, are heavy users of our high speed home Internet connection, and are still hanging onto a home phone, all thanks to Time Warner cable, largely the sole servicer of our residential area. We pay them a king’s ransom for these services, with a typical monthly service bill approaching $400 for what TWC calls, “Signature Service,” at least implying our almost $5,000 annual investment puts us in a top tier customer segment among their most elite.

We decided to add a new television outlet to our subscription last weekend and ordered an on-premises install of the new “box” by one of their technicians. The appointment was scheduled for 9am Saturday.

As of 9:00 pm Friday evening, 12 hours before our visit, I received no fewer than four calls to “confirm the details” for the morning call, with each outreach uninformed by the other three, as though they didn’t happen. In fact, I even received a fifth call at 3:35 am to again, “confirm” which by then truly pushed my buttons and upset me.

9:00 am came and the installer came in. We showed him the television we wanted to connect to their service and left him alone to complete what should have been simple. Forty-five minutes later, while not fully done, he asked my wife and me to join him in the room to see his progress thus far.

First, I found it surprising that when my wife asked him whether the box was new or a “refurb” that even as a $5,000 subscriber he confirmed we were getting a used box because he only had DVR boxes new, a service he said we hadn’t asked for. While a surprise in itself that we didn’t qualify for new equipment, I also reminded him that if he actually read his manifest he’d clearly see we had “whole house DVR” service and that I was indeed expecting playback to be possible on the new set, even if we couldn’t record on that one as not a DVR box itself.

The installer said he had no idea we wanted DVR playback, even though it was ordered that way, and that he also had no idea we had “whole-house DVR” on our other sets and would likely want the same on the new one. He never thought to ask until I pressed the issue with him, and even then he was unprepared and full of excuses as to why I couldn’t have what I was asking for.

Initially I was very quick to find fault with the installer, and I was getting visibly frustrated with the low quality service on this visit. I was fast to blame him in my mind as being sloppy and the one who dropped the ball.

Then, I stopped and thought about it for a moment and realized that TWC dispatch clearly did not share any customer intelligence about us, our current service or specifics about the installation at hand. I realized the guy in our living room simply had no idea about us, his “Signature Customer,” nor anything about our subscription, service level or history. In short, the guy was shooting in the dark.

The poor service experience my wife and I had with TWC last weekend was a direct function of the company shirking the responsibility of arming its customer facing employees with crucial customer information and intelligence. Nothing was supplied. Nada. Shame on TWC.

Bringing key customer insight to front line employees should not be an optional consideration for elite companies only. It shouldn’t be only for the friends and family of Nordstrom salespeople, or frequent visitors to the VIP rooms at Tiffany or other luxury goods companies. Customer information needs to be made available to all front-line employees at every company prior to every customer interaction, always.

This may be something as commonplace as filling up a customer screen about a caller before a phone agent takes a routed call or as forward looking and advanced as a full customer profile and account deep-dive available to a business sales rep just prior to walking into an on-site visit sales call.

In this case, TWC managers could easily have fed information about my current service and desired outcome of the visit to the installer before he put his little plastic booties on his shoes and came into our foyer. They could have sent him a “profile” of us and the installation at hand and he’d know what was needed and how we wanted to be helped, without an ounce of frustration for us or him.

I want to ask each of us to consider how we equip our front lines with just-in-time customer intelligence. Those of us who have a good handle on it will appear thoughtful and likely delight the customer who won’t need to oversee what should be a straight-forward interaction with burdensome repetitive details. For those who wrongly think they cannot, or for some reason that doing this well is complicated when in fact it’s not hard, will be left with costly recalls, repeat customer assists, penalties paid to their first call resolution ratios and flat-out annoyed customers wishing, like we did last Saturday, that there was some other place we could give our $400 a month to.