Article | Getting to Happily Ever After

7 Customer Service #Fails That Yield Insights

Thomas Edison is believed to have said that he didn’t fail, he just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work. Such is the nature of business. Plenty of technologies and business models rise up, only to fade away when they fail to gain traction or become obsolete. Other solutions may be half-baked with plenty of room for development. The customer service arena is no different. 

Here are seven customer service initiatives that fell flat or needed improvement, along with the valuable lessons they generated for improving the customer experience.  


Google Glass
The Idea: Google Glass was hailed as an innovative technology with huge potential when it was unveiled a few years ago. For customer service, the ability to share your view through Google Glass meant agents could share their feed with a customer and walk them through a task or repair. Conversely, if the customer had Google Glass, he or she could give immediate insight into the problem as if the agent were sitting next to the customer. 

Despite its potential, Google Glass failed to get past the testing phase. “Google Glass now sits in my office museum of failed products,” writes Tim Bajarin, a Google Glass Explorer and president of Creative Strategies Inc., in a column on Re/Code. “The UI was terrible, the connection unreliable, and the info it delivered had little use to me.” 

The Lesson: Just because an idea doesn’t take off as intended, it isn’t necessarily a failure. Although Google Glass itself didn’t become a household item, insights from the technology have given rise to other innovations. For example, some of its features, such as augmented reality and screen sharing, have made their way to other platforms (e.g., Pokemon Go and Amazon Mayday). Furthermore, negative reactions to the distinctive glassless frames suggest that technology should be embedded or blend into the background (think connected cars or the Internet of Things). 

QR Codes
The Idea: Quick Response (QR) codes generated a lot of media attention about five years ago and have been sliding into obscurity ever since. QR codes were designed to form a connection between the print and digital worlds. Some of the suggested uses included handing out feedback cards with QR codes that customers could scan with their phones to fill out an online form. Another suggestion was to place a QR Code on your business card as another way to connect with people you’ve met. 

The Lesson: It didn’t take long before the novelty of using a QR code faded. One of the reasons was that QR codes were not native to smartphones. Users had to download a QR code reader app, which assumed they had a smartphone ready. The lesson behind QR codes is to be wary of solutions that are buzzworthy, but have a clunky user experience and a small audience.  

Holographic Assistants
The Idea: Life-sized holographic avatars were introduced as assistants that provide basic information. LaGuardia Airport, for example, introduced “Marie” in 2012. Marie is a life-size image of a woman digitally broadcast from a projector. The device uses motion sensors to prompt Marie to recite information, such as terminal and restroom locations, whenever anyone comes within a few feet. A similar avatar named Libby was also unveiled at Newark Liberty International Airport. Each avatar cost $60,000, according to the New York Times. The avatars were designed to help ease the workload on human workers, but they failed to take off. 

The Lesson: While there’s value in experimentation, companies should determine whether the new product is needed and if it fills a gap in existing services. A holographic avatar that provides information is interesting, but without the ability to respond intelligently to customers, it’s ultimately just an expensive sign.   


Contact Center Reporting
The Idea: Dashboards, reports, and scorecards are all integral to managing employee performance and identifying issues before they adversely affect customer satisfaction. But these measurement tools aren’t created equally and their effectiveness widely varies, says Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting. 

“The number one complaint that we hear about contact center solutions is complicated reporting,” Fluss says. “Vendors have made some improvements—such as with visualization—but it’s still a struggle to get the insights you need fast enough and be able to act on them.” For example, while it’s possible to get analytics about every touchpoint, some clients still need assistance interpreting the data. “There’s a misconception that people need hundreds of KPIs,” Fluss says. “When you really just need 10 to 15 appropriately targeted KPIs with a few next-best action recommendations.”

The Lesson: Throwing analytics at customers without context or guidelines is ineffective and a missed opportunity to provide a useful tool. Remember to view products from the perspective of a newcomer when looking for opportunities to improve the usability and accessibility of a product. 

Daisy-Chained Systems 
The Idea: To deliver a unified experience, customer service agents need access to the right information. This often meant working with partners to connect the various data systems together. “There used to be a segment of companies whose main job was to integrate the agent desktop with other applications and produce a unified screen that tied all of these things together,” recalls Keith Dawson, principal analyst at Ovum. But the need for these services has been greatly reduced as vendors added those technologies into their suite solutions, allowing users to skip the middleman. Furthermore, “Thanks to the cloud, you barely need additional integration services at all,” Dawson adds. 

The Lesson: What makes a profitable business today may not be as profitable in the future. “Many companies have fallen out of favor because they weren’t keeping up with changes in the market,” Dawson says. “Changes happen quickly and companies must continue to innovate or get left behind.” 


Channel-first Mentality
The Idea: There’s a common belief that customers have a preferred channel of communication, such as Millennials being mobile-first while older consumers prefer print. Many companies will base their communication strategies around those assumptions without checking whether it’s accurate. Similarly, other companies embrace the latest channels regardless of whether their customers use them.

The Lesson: Approaches like these lead to a poor experience, says Gina Ferrara, senior analyst at Madison Advisors. A company’s engagement strategy should be based on the customer, not the channel. “The most successful businesses don’t build around channel silos, they build around customer segments,” Ferrara says. “That way they’re focusing on the customers’ preferences and providing relevant information in a way that’s manageable.” 

Responsibility for the Customer Experience 
The Idea: It’s easy to assume that customer centricity is mainly the responsibility of customer-facing departments like marketing or customer service. After all, if you never meet the customers, it’s unlikely that your job affects their experience. Wrong, Ferrara says. “CX shouldn’t be limited to just one department, it’s something that concerns all parts of a company.” 

The Lesson: Every employee should feel responsible for the customer experience. Establishing a culture that focuses on customer centricity is critical. Also, when selecting a chief customer officer or similar role, that person “should report to the highest level of the business,” Ferrara advises. “Having the backing of a CEO or senior officer is important because it can make it easier to introduce changes that might otherwise be ignored.” Furthermore, a chief customer officer who has experience working in a variety of departments and roles will have a better understanding of departmental concerns and can more effectively collaborate with employees across departments. 

It’s easy to dismiss ideas that don’t gain users or drive revenue as failures. But even these ideas hold value as a map for creating better solutions that improve the customer experience. In other words, what looks like a customer miss in the short term might be a step in the right direction from a longer view.