To paraphrase the famous lawyer, Johnny Cochran “If the flow doesn’t fit, you must re-fit”.
In this post, I am going to share a recent customer care experience that perfectly illustrates the dangers of implementing a UK centred customer care flow in Ireland. The example I am using is with PC World, which is a chain of electronics stores across the UK and Ireland.
A UK customer care flow being used in Ireland:
- SMS notification with a UK contact number that Irish customers can’t dial.
- Euro payments not supported for Irish customers.
- Agents not empowered.
- Support tools not in-sync & customers expected to text a UK number with survey responses.
- Passed from agent to agent to round out a poor customer care experience.
For context, I am one of the founders of Chatify.com which is a live chat platform for teams. My day job is working closely with customer support teams to help steer our product development. Some very large (hundreds of agents) but most small to medium sized teams use Chatify to support their customers. Customer care flows can easily go wrong. But it’s very rare to find a flow that is, quite so completely broken, as the one in PC World.
I can say with certainty that no one in PC World intended for this experience to be delivered to their customer but when the customer journey is not well thought through, or at least not tested for the market that its being implemented in, this can easily happen. It’s really not my objective to vilify Team Knowhow in PC World. In fairness to them, they clearly do focus on customer care — the issues that I am highlighting are almost entirely to do with a UK customer care flow being implemented in Ireland.
Let me set the scene….
I purchased a couple of laptops in the run up to Christmas 2019. Within a few weeks, the screen on one of the laptops was damaged. So I decided to bring it back to the store, where I purchased the laptop, to see what they would recommend. The screen needed to be repaired. The cost was €85 for the ‘assessment’.
“OK — steep but I am here now…I might as well run with it”
So I booked the machine in and 2 weeks (approx) later, I get the following text:
The first couple of times that I tried to call the number, I assumed it was busy. The call would just fail. I was clicking the number in the SMS to start the call. Then I realised that this was a UK 0800 number.
Keep in mind that I am based in Ireland. The PC World Store, where I booked in the repair, is also in Ireland (Mahon Point, Cork).
#Issue 1: Sending an SMS with a contact number that’s not possible to dial.
I am sure that someone tested this SMS notification but only for the default customer location (i.e. the UK). From their corporate website:
Dixons Carphone plc is a leading multinational consumer electrical and mobile retailer and service company. We are the market leader in the UK & Ireland, throughout the Nordics and in Greece.
Supporting customers outside of the UK should be nothing new to PC World.
I eventually twigged the issue, located the customer support number for the Republic of Ireland and got through. The agent said that the repair will cost €105 (replacement screen). “Let me transfer you to to payment team”.
OK.. A little more expensive than I was expecting but at this stage, let’s just get it done.
A couple of minutes later, the agent comes back to me. Because you are paying in Euros, we can’t take payment over the phone.
Yes, you have to go to the store, pay for the repair and then we will process the repair.
Can I not just pay for the repair when I collect the laptop? You know, since you can’t take payment now.
#Issue 2: Can’t take payment in the currency that’s just been quoted.
The disconnect between what the flow is designed for (UK customers paying in GBP) and where the flow is being used (Irish customers paying in EUR) becomes even more evident now. The flow is just not fit for purpose. Who, in their right mind, would go 3 times to a PC World — or any store — to process a simple repair?
Drop in for repair (pay for assessment)
Return to store to pay for repair
Collect repaired item.
Seriously, short of someone living above a PC World store, really — would anybody do this? I refuse to believe that anyone in the PC World customer care team analysed this flow and came to the conclusion that this was a runner.
#Issue 3: Customer Support Agent not Empowered
This is really where PC World customer care missed the opportunity to fix the situation. What is the point of having support — delivered by human beings — if they’re limited to binary decisions? When I explained that for me to re-visit the store would be approx. 90 mins round trip, the agent said “Oh sorry about that but you will have to go to the store to pay before I can process the repair”.
At no point did the agent try to understand the inconvenience that this was causing and look to come up with a solution.
Maybe I could have paid in GBP?
Maybe I could have paid by bank transfer?
Maybe she could have had the Cork store call me to take payment over the phone?
Maybe because it was PC World’s issue that they could not process a EUR payment that they should have permitted me to pay on collection?
The agent, while pleasant, either wasn’t empowered or wasn’t bothered neither of which is going to lead to successful customer support outcomes.
I cancelled the repair and requested that the laptop be returned. The agent actioned this and a few days later I got an SMS to say that the laptop was ready for collection.
#Issue 4: Multiple support tools that are not synced
It’s clear that PC World are focused on improving their customer care. However, even here, the survey trigger is out of sync with the flow. This will impact both customers in the UK and Ireland.
At this point, I should not have received a “repair experience” survey. Team Knowhow has reminded me several times that I am still in the “assessment” stage. So an “assessment feedback survey” would make sense here but a repair survey does not.
It looks like the logic here assumes that the repair has been actioned (because I cancelled the repair and had the laptop returned).
Incidentally, the survey is delivered by SMS via a bot (well really an automated response flow). The experience is good. The only issue that I have here is that the survey is out of sync with my experience. PC World needs to tighten up the logic on what triggers the survey. For example, repairs cancelled in the assessment stage should receive a different survey.
Notice also that the survey is delivered from a UK number? This again underlines that the entire customer support flow is designed around UK customers and not those based in Ireland. Few markets would put up with having to text an international number to respond to a survey.
#Issue 5: Multiple Agents Replying
My strong preference is that where possible, one agent should follow the ticket from start to finish. This gives a much more consistent experience to the customer. It says “Hey, I care enough about your custom to resolve the issue for you”. For me, two agents replied to my emails: Tom and Paul.
Tom’s email was considered (he actually read my email) and drafted a reply that covered off the points I raised:
I replied to Tom’s email saying, in light of acknowledged issues, how about refunding the €85 assessment fee. Paul then replied with:
Being passed from agent to agent like this in the same thread screams that you’re not very important. Also, you can clearly see that Paul took a cookie cutter approach to his email — swapping out words and not bothering to ensure that the font sizes were consistent. Can you feel the love? Me neither.
What can you learn from this?
PC World has implemented a customer support flow that is designed for the UK market in Ireland. It has multiple points of failure. Everything to me from the flow, to the agent I spoke with and to the emails that I received, screams “Irish customers are just not that important to us”. I am sure that this is NOT what PC World means to say but this IS the message that their current customer flow is delivering to their Irish customers.
Am I being harsh? Maybe. But the issues that PC World are forcing Irish customers to deal with are so easily fixed. A few IF statements and some simple re-working of the logic and this really could be improved enormously.
As you expand into a new market, don’t assume that your current customer support flow will automatically fit. Take the time to re-test the flow as though you were a customer from the new market. You will be surprised at how a few simple tweaks can deliver a far superior experience to your new customers. If you customer support flow follows the same approach as the one implemented in PC World, I would recommend:
- Tailor SMS messages for each market
Use IF statements to customise the notifications being sent to customers in each market: [if +44 or UK address format…, use message 1, if +353 or Irish address, use message 2]. Make sure that contact numbers are localised.
- PaymentsWhatever currency you quote in, you need to be able to accept payments in that currency. If, for whatever reason you can’t, then you better have a logical and convenient work around for your customers.
- Empower AgentsBots are ideal for delivering customer care where choices are binary (x or y). If you are using a customer care team, then they should be able to deviate from standard flows, where it makes sense to do so. Empower your support team to make these decisions.
- Support Tools & ServicesIf you are using multiple tools to deliver support, then you need to make sure that they are synced correctly. Test the logic as to when key actions are triggered. Does it make sense? The same goes for services called in from API’s (messaging, payment, etc.). It’s important that they support the functionality that’s required in each market. If they don’t, then swap out with services that do. Where possible, look for messages to come from a local number.
- Agent should handle case start to finish
This is better for the customer (consistency) and the agent (understanding). Of course, it makes sense to have multiple people collaborating to assist the customer but ultimately one person needs to own it. Shared responsibility leads to no responsibility.
Expanding beyond your initial market is always an exciting phase for growing companies. But in the rush to win new business, sometimes companies overlook the importance of re-testing their customer care flow to make sure that it works for the new market. If it doesn’t, then it’s critical that you refine it. Otherwise you will bleed hard won customers.