Useless service, in double quick time

Tim Trent has written an article about the BT SMS fiasco: Anatomy of a Marketing Disaster.

In it he describes some of the responses that people have been given when they have tried to talk to BT about this service.

This morning, on the Data Protection list, an even better one was unveiled. After sending a s10 Notice, asking BT to stop processing their details in this manner (the official way to say, “Don’t allow anyone to get my details through this service), one customer received a reply saying that BT have now changed their telephone number to be ex-directory, and they are thus no longer accessible through Directory Enquiries!

When the internet bubble collapsed a few years back, there was a trend for some of the surviving ecommerce companies, in a bid to cut costs to ensure they continued to survive, to switch a lot of their customer service to automated software which would extract key words from customer emails and respond with a suitable stock answer. Of course everyone made fun of these, as, for the most part, they were universally useless – often hilariously so. You certainly didn’t want to send an email saying anything like “I have already checked with my bank and they say it’s not a problem with my credit card”, as their software would only see the phrase “problem with my credit card”, and reply accordingly.

So, most organisations stepped this back a level. They still built up a database of pre-approved stock answers, but a human had to select the relevant one based on the content of your email. But, even when this approach works well, it still doesn’t really work well. (There are lots of organisations who will get really confused if you ask more than one question in an email.) Unfortunately, a lot of the time, it doesn’t seem to work much better than the original software.

Whichever theory you subscribe to (management pressure to handle 10,000 emails per day, or customer service being offshored to people who don’t speak English well, or just that 90% of call centre staff are just incompetent, or whatever), dealing with many companies these days is a very painful experience. And, as you often only have to contact them when something has gone wrong in the first place, this level of incompetence usually just pours oil on the flames.

As the person who received the above response from BT suggested, many of these sorts of companies should look very carefully at their customer defection rates and reasons. Some might be surprised to see how much they’re spending on marketing just to generate as many new customers as they’re losing through poor service.

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