Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Make life easier for your customers

I pay a membership fee to a certain international hotel group, so that I get preferential rates, upgrades, etc. You know the deal. I'm sure that if you travel a fair bit for business, then you are a member of something similar. When you join or renew, they provide you with a free night in any hotel. Great deal.  They also provide you with points, which you can redeem as vouchers to pay for accommodation.
Now, I have tried to book two rooms, for two nights, so that we can be tourists in a lovely part of this great country, en famille. I contacted the hotel I wanted to stay at and they were more than helpful. They could provide us with the exact rooms I wanted, at a good rate. Unfortunately, the hotel are unable to provide the booking for the freebie over the phone.  I have to do that on line.  This is where it falls apart. To reclaim the vouchers, I have to decide if I want to reclaim them in USD or EUR.  I'm in New Zealand, so am not interested in these currencies.  I considered it would be easier to contact the freephone number and book it all over the phone, because I wanted to make sure I knew how many vouchers I would need, and how much it would cover.  The helpful young lady overseas advised that I couldn't use both on the same booking but changed her mind after I requested to speak to a manager.  Trying to complete the booking got very complicated due to language differences, so I will try again tomorrow.
Now I am not here to tell you that any particular French hotel group is wrong or right in the way that they operate, but this seems like a prime example of how companies can get customer service wrong.
If you are going to offer special deals and freebies to paying customers, then it should be easy for them to reclaim them. I spent 20 minutes talking to people before I lost the will to continue. I shall try again tomorrow.  However why should I need to go through this? Why not offer the customer a simple way for them to reclaim the offers? Why not allow the front desk the ability to take a booking and the computer system handle the promotional codes.
The trouble is, I have seen this type of thing on too many Service Desks as well. You want a new piece of software?  You go to the Service Desk and ask them. I have seen Service Desks where they use tools to provide a Request Catalogue, and work flow the request to all parties concerned. This makes life easier for the customer / user.  However I have seen situations where the customer / user is passed from pillar to post and left bemused and frustrated.
How do we get this right? This will sound easier than it is. Bear with me.
Firstly, it is about understanding what your customer (I use the term for ease, instead of customer / user - I know it annoys some skeptics, and I wouldn't want to do that). If you know what they want, you can try to  provide them with a simple or easy way to achieve that.
Next, understand what you can or cannot deliver. What are the services that you provide? What do you rely of others to provide? Where are the lines of delineation? Do you need OLAs (Operational Level Agreements)? I would recommend against them, as it creates a non-team spirited approach.
Make sure you have a simple way of passing information between dealing groups. Once you understand how you will do it, by all means use a tool if it is justified. Please don't jump at the first big-named tool you see because you have read good things about it. Work out whether it will deliver what YOU want and need. There are many very good ones out there that cost very little.
Once you have this worked out, understand how you can measure whether what you deliver is actually delivering what the customer wants.  And the cycle continues.
So why does it seem so hard in areas and industries whom we are supposed to look up to?