A funny thing happened today

I applied for a new credit card. I wasn’t in the market for a new credit card. I shred credit card offers almost daily. No one sent me an offer that I found too irresistible. No, the funny thing is that my current credit card bank spent money and went to a lot of trouble to convince me to open an account somewhere else.

It sounds very odd, doesn’t it?

Now I happen to know that this particular bank has worked to embrace Agile software development. I know people who have worked with them to do so. And I’m sure that, considering the size of the organization, they’ve made great strides in improving their software development practice. Yet the events that transpired today tell me that they’re missing an important feedback loop–arguably THE important feedback loop–the one that involves the customer.

Here’s what happened: I got an advertisement in the mail from them, offering bonus rewards when purchasing from certain of their business partners. This advertisement was printed in full color on both sides of a cardstock trifold that folded down to about #10 envelope size for mailing. It was mailed at presorted first class rates, not bulk mail. This advertising campaign obviously cost some time and money and effort.

And it was effective. I booted up a PC and headed to their web site to sign up for this program. Huh? I get an error message when I try to login. I tried again. No joy. I called the 800 number. And as I was punching buttons to get through the voicemail system, I recalled having a problem when I last tried to use their web site, about six months ago.

Well, the customer service people were apologetic, and they forwarded me to the tech support people. The tech support people were apologetic, but explained that when online accounts weren’t used for a time, they expired the accounts.

“But I don’t use the online account on a regular basis!”

“You don’t have to login every month, but you should do so every two months. You’ll just have to register a new login.”

“You mean I can’t use the same login I had?”

“No, you have to use a login that no one’s used before.”

This scheme is a non-starter for me. I’d effectively be creating a one-time-use login every time I used the system. And since I couldn’t use the login that comes naturally to me, I’d have to keep track of my current login ID in case I came back to the site in a short time. But since I was assured there was no way to reuse the existing login ID, I asked to be transferred to someone who could change this policy.

Well, they said they were transferring me back to Customer Service. But whether there was some error or they knew that there really wasn’t anyone who could change the policy, the call dropped and I had to call back.

The Customer Service person offered to connect me with a Supervisor, but warned that they had no power, either. She confided that there was a “general correspondence” fax number that, if there were enough complaints, might get someone’s attention. I took down the number.

But I don’t send many faxes, and it’s not convenient for me to do so. I probably will send them a copy of this post, but I’m dealing with them as a customer, not as a consultant. Is it worth my time to help them straighten out their business processes? Hence the application to their competitor. Maybe they’ll be better.

An Agile development team works hard to deliver exactly what satisfies their Customer (in XP terms) or Product Owner (in Scrum terms). There are numerous feedback mechanisms to measure how well that satisfaction is produced, and this can be used to steer the project. It’s customary in larger organizations (and sometimes in smaller ones) for the person (or people) playing the role of Customer to be a proxy for other parties who have an interest in the success of the venture. These other parties may be User Experience people, Marketing people, high-level Executives…. These people, in turn, are often proxies for others. It can be a long chain of proxies before it reaches the end-user customer-who-buys-the-service.

What this company has done, is to effectively prevent any feedback from those end-user customers from reaching people who make the decisions. The problem is not that they have written a policy into the software that does not work for their customers. Everybody makes mistakes. The real problem is that there’s no feedback mechanism for discovering their mistakes until enough customers leave that the Accounting office notices. And the Accounting office may never notice, given that this is business as usual for them.

So, how is it in your company? Do you work hard to create a web site to be the center of your customers’ lives? Do you let the viewpoint of that website overrule the viewpoint of the marketeers trying to increase revenues? Do you have a mechanism or process to measure the effectiveness with real customers? And, perhaps most important of all, do you have a communications channel to allow receiving information from real customers who take the trouble to let you know when you’ve made a mistake?

It’s all about feedback.

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Comments (4) to “A funny thing happened today”

  1. Good point.

    Good post.

  2. You’re assuming that they HAVE made a mistake. Expiring unused accounts doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me. If you’re only logging in every couple of months, you’re hardly an average user and in no position to dictate their policy.

  3. Russ, how often do you log into all of your accounts (banking, credit cards, insurance, loans, etc.)? Do these business relationships expire if you don’t log into the website frequently?

    I’m not /assuming/ they’ve made a mistake. I’m deducing it. My logic goes something like this:

    The company is in business to make a profit.

    The company is in the business of providing credit card services and their profit comes from that.

    The websites for credit card statements and for bonuses used to entice customers to use their credit card are not profit centers. Instead, they exist to increase the number of customers who use their credit cards.

    Since the credit card statement is delivered via USPS, the fact that I infrequently check the account or bonus benefits online is not a reflection on how good a customer I am according to their profit center.

    The fact that their non-profit accommodations are driving away a customer from their profit-making enterprise is prima facie evidence that they HAVE made a mistake.

    As you say, I’m in no position to dictate their policy. I AM in a position to vote with my feet. And from appearances, their marketing department is in no position to dictate their policy, either, and that’s a shame for them.

  4. RussHAVE m wrote:

    > You’re assuming that they HAVE made a mistake.

    Driving customers away is usually a mistake :-)

    > Expiring unused accounts doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me.
    > If you’re only logging in every couple of months, you’re hardly
    > an average user and in no position to dictate their policy.

    Exactly the kind of non-business-oriented response you’d expect of the people who created this mess in the first place — frequency of login correlates to the revenue generated by a given customer? I’d bet not.

    But George, your point about closing the door to customer feedback is well made, and unfortunately all too common.

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