Unnecessary complexity

It doesn’t seem to matter what you’re purchasing or dealing with these days, a car, mobile phone, broadband plan, computer or government services, the number of products or variants, even from a single organisation, is quite extraordinary. This is why I find buying anything or dealing with any government service so difficult. Even if you work through the multitude of choices, and decide on a particular product and specification to meet your needs, you then find it is out of stock and no one knows when it is likely to be available.

I bought a new vehicle a couple of years ago as my old SUV, which was 13 years old, but in excellent condition, was beginning to need more expensive maintenance work done to keep it operating properly. It was also larger than I needed and didn’t have any of the driving assistance aids modern cars have to help in our much busier and hectic suburban environment. I don’t know about you, but it seems the streets have become far narrower than they use to be, and it probably doesn’t help that other road user seem to want to travel on your side of the road or pass you in your lane. As I have always been interested in cars and now being retired, and in a reasonably comfortable financial position, I decided I would reward myself for over 40 years of dedicated work, and buy a small SUV from an up market brand. Although I did a lot of research before even venturing into a dealership, the joy of buying the little SUV started to diminish a little as I was confronted with multiple variants of the model I was considering. I was able to select from five engines, four model variants, multiple specification packs (with names that didn’t seem to relate to the features they provided), and a never ending list of individual options.

The real issue I have is that it wasn’t just the complexity of the range, but the marketing jargon used and a lack of consistency in terminology. The same item was referred to differently in different sections of their documentation and this often varied from how it was referred to as part of a pack or as a separate option. This makes it extremely confusing, not only for me, but for the sales staff, as it was difficult for them to explain the differences or what you were actually getting. Being interested in cars, I have previously waited up to a year for the right model in my chosen colour to purchase a ‘regular car’, so having to wait five months for a more ‘up market’ car with the the features I wanted was no surprise. The real surprise was when the car arrived in Australia it wasn’t fitted with all the options I had ordered. Whoever placed the order had possibly entered or selected the incorrect specifications as it was all too complex.

Thankfully, there were a couple of advantages to this less than ideal situation. I was able to amend my order from a diesel engine to a mid tuned petrol engine, as diesels were beginning to go out of favour for smaller SUVs, and the petrol engine provided better performance. This meant I needed to drop a couple of nice to have options to offset the increase in price due to the additional taxes on the petrol version as it was not quite as economical as the diesel. Also, as I had originally negotiated the use of a loan car should delivery not be made within six months, I was provided with the use of a brand new larger model SUV for the nine months it took for my car to be delivered.

This is just one example of how complexity is counter to good customer service or is an added cost to the company. You only have to look at mobile phone and data plans. Most companies have reduced the number of plans available, but the options or restrictions within these plans means the decisions to find a plan to best suit your needs can still be complex. Options and restrictions include whether you can use 5G, how you will pay for the plan and under which circumstances data can be shared across your services.

The brand of SUV I selected has since reduced the engines available in this model to one and the variants to three. However, it seems their research indicated most customers selected an option pack, costing several thousand dollars, which only provided rather superficial trim changes, and a lower ground clearance, and they have now incorporated this across the range. This added cost for little benefit and the lower ground clearance means I would probably not purchase this model if I was looking for new car today.

Most of my options related to safety, convenience or to reduce the cars obsolescence (as more and more technology is included in cars these days). The safety related options I selected included, a head up display allowing me to concentrate more on the road than looking down at the instrument panel to see my speed or navigation directions, a 360° surround camera, rear animated direction indicators allowing other road users to more easily see my intentions (it seems you have to look for indicators on many vehicles as they are often hidden out of the way, or are just not used), tyre pressure monitoring system, and larger wheels and tyres providing better grip and improved braking. The options I selected for convenience and to reduced obsolescence included, an interactive digital instrument panel, gearshift paddles, digital radio and keyless entry. The only option that fell outside these parameters was a rather expensive metallic dark grey colour rather than the only no cost colour option of white.

I don’t regret my purchase in any way. In fact every time I drive my little SUV I appreciate how well it drives, how quiet it is, and all the wonderful features it has, many of which came standard in the variant I selected. Some that come to mind are the way it automatically responds to situations, much like I would do, such as turning the rear wiper on when I select reverse when the windscreen wipers are on, activating full headlights if it is raining heavily, or several seconds after washing and wiping the windscreen it does that one further wipe to clear away the residue which usually runs down the windscreen. However, one of the greatest safety features is an operator will automatically be notified if I am in an accident where the airbags are deployed. The operator is able to contact emergency services and provide details of the cars location and details of who is driving. They can also advise emergency services of any existing health conditions of the driver. If the accident doesn’t activate the airbags there is a button you can press to activate this service or there is another button you press to call for roadside assistance in the event of a breakdown.

I really appreciate and look forward to driving my little SUV.

Special offers to new customers only

Businesses need to appreciate and look after their existing customers. Yes, the customers they already have, not just potential customers who may or may not stay with them after the special offer expires.

I have a subscription with a music streaming service. It’s not the cheapest or the most convenient one for me to use, but they pay a higher rate to those who contribute the source material, and this is important to me. I’m not a heavy user of the service, but having it available for when I want to use it, is fantastic.

They recently advertised an offer to new customers of a rather nominal monthly rate for the first three months. Not recognising those who support you and only providing deals to new customers has never sat well with me. I looked on their website to see if there was any kind of offer for existing customers. As there didn’t appear to be any, I decided I might cancel my subscription and think about moving to one of the other service providers whose data does not count against my monthly data limit. When I selected the button to cancel I was provided with a choice to either cancel my service or view a special offer. I selected to view the offer and found I could reduce my current monthly rate by 20% for the next 3 months.

I understand the approach taken by the organisation, but I’m not sure they are being open and fair. They are operating in a highly competitive industry and, as I mentioned earlier, they do pay a higher rate to those providing the source material than other similar service providers, but to bury this special deal in this way seems to undermine my confidence in them. If I ignored the offer and selected cancel, would I have been provided with an even better offer? I will never know, as I accepted the offer.

I prefer to be more open and fair with people. If you offer some of your customers a special deal, you should offer it to all of them, not just those who are prepared to cancel their subscription. If you are open and fair you are likely to find a portion of your customers will not take advantage of the offer anyway.

Banking and customer service

I heard friends talking about a recent visit to one of the top four banks to change the signatory on a social club account. Although an appointment had been made, three club members were kept waiting for over an hour. This was put down to staff shortages. Once a staff member was available, they were surprised at the lengthy and somewhat hap hazard process that followed. After a further 40 minutes or so they left the branch believing the new signatory to the account would be able to initiate and approve payments on the club’s account.

A couple of days later a transaction required approval. When the new signatory logged in to approve the transaction they found they did not have the correct access to approve the payment. This is not an isolated incident. Similar problems have been experienced when the account was originally opened and when other changes of signatory were required. The issues may not have been the same each time, but the result was the same; the signatory could not initiate or approve transactions without further contacting the bank.

Having worked in banking and finance I appreciate maintenance tasks can be involved and time consuming. In this case you need to identify the new signatory in line with legislative requirements and ensure they have authority from the club. They then need to be set up as a customer, be provided with online access and provided with the correct permissions to transact on the account. If the bank gets it right the first time they reduce the cost of providing the service. The bank doesn’t make money from these maintenance tasks, so the process needs to be easily followed by all customer service staff. What is not realised is that if they get it wrong, there is a cost to the bank associated with the word of mouth criticism of the bank.

We all appreciate mistakes happen, but when mistakes happen nearly every time, the process is flawed and needs to be sorted out. One of the banks I worked with spent considerable time documenting these maintenance activities. I recall tabling all the requirements needing to be met for each of the legal entities (individuals, joint account holders, partnerships, companies and associations) and then how the systems were set up for each one. Staff appreciated the easy online access to the instructions through their intranet as they performed the tasks (they didn’t need to rely on memory or ask someone else for assistance). I was pleased when I needed to make a change to a company account and the staff member followed the instructions I had been involved in, to perform the change. They even commented how they appreciated the step by step assistance the instructions provided. This was without even knowing I had a part in developing them.

I believe maintenance processes and their associated instructions should be well documented to reduce the cost of providing these services. Maintenance tasks do not make money, but can cost the organisation dearly if not carried out well. Having to respond to multiple customer enquiries to complete the task is also very costly and frustrating for customers.