Customer Experience: It's All In The Details

How Just 12 Pence Nearly Cost This Business a Customer

Salutary Tales About Understanding the Importance of Your Customer Journey

I’ve been doing some research into hidden costs of project management which led me to thinking about the hidden costs of a poor customer experience and what happens when process becomes king, trumping the customer experience.

Let me start by telling you about the experience I had that I’m relating to.

I decided to start a trial of some software. Like so much software today, it’s cloud based, there’s a monthly subscription and I was given a one month free trial.  I won’t say who as I don’t really want to bad mouth them, I don’t think they are a bad company, they’re just falling prey to their process!

Three days later I received a call, theoretically asking me how I was getting on but it ended with special offer that was only available that day.  I was irritated, what’s the point of a free trial if you are going to be pressured into buying before you’ve even tried it?  I don’t mind the little messages at the top reminding me to upgrade but this annoyed me.  I said that as I’d only been using it for three days, I really couldn’t make a decision now.  I was told that he couldn’t promise this offer would still be available but he’d hold his best offer for me.  When did I think I could make a decision?  He pushed and I agreed that probably the end of March was practical (the free trial actually didn’t end till mid-April).

So my start is already a bit grumpy but I know this is tool being used quite widely so still wanted to keep going with my trial.

A week later, I get an email telling me that offer runs out that day (so much for the “only available if you commit today”).  More mild grumpiness along with confirmation of my cynicism around the process and availability of offers.

Then I get an invite to a webinar with the promise of special offer.  It’s running near the end of the month.  It sounds useful, so I sign up – after all you don’t know what you don’t know and saving money is always a bonus.  I’m pretty confident at this stage that I will go ahead with upgrading to a paid account.

Off we go, the webinar goes to plan, we’re given a pretty good special offer to be taken up by the last day of the month (i.e. the next day).  

I have a query so, on the last day of the month, I call to clarify and make sure that I select the best plan for me.  My super helpful sales guy helps me and gives me some good advice.

I sign up.

Now to be fair, on this particular day, a few things had gone wrong – nothing to do with this software, but I was already a bit grumpy.  Added to which I already had a bit of negativity around the process I’d gone through with them.  I suspect I carried that grumpiness to sleep with me.

The next morning – I wake up to an invoice – oh good I think – it’s all gone through.  Then I open it.  It’s for 12 pence.  This is the charge for March.  I signed up on March 31st, not even in the morning!  I still had almost 2 weeks left on my free trial!!  And they had invoiced me for 12p.

You might be wondering why I was so annoyed.  After all, it’s only 12p.  But to me it’s what the company was saying – it felt petty and negative.  It left a bad taste in my mouth.  The cost of processing this for both of us was probably going to exceed the 12p they’d get back.  I know, I know – mind the pennies and pounds will watch themselves, but still…

I wrote to my super helpful sales guy.  He said he didn’t know what had gone wrong and told me to write to the billing department.  I was tempted to be grumpy about this as well as he could have forwarded it on for me.  But I decided I was grumpy enough and in danger of being petty too!

I wrote and explained – not the amount, the message, etc etc.

Several days later, they responded explaining that their process was to have people who start on the last few days of the month, automatically set to 1st of the following month hence the charge.  They said the invoice stood.

As you can imagine, this did not alleviate my grumpiness.  I promise I’m not grumpy all the time – honestly, I’m not!!

I wrote back and said, fair enough but surely they could have a different process – I was still in my free trial after all so it’s not like they were losing money, couldn’t they have written and said hey, normally we’d charge for those days pro-rata but bonus, it’s our gift to you – or what about speaking to the sales team and agreeing better timing on when their promotions end so that this problem doesn’t occur.  I said that I knew it was only 12p but really, it had left a negative taste in my mouth.

The next email came back saying they would pass on my suggestions and that due to my negative experience, they would issue a credit note for the 12p.

I said thank you and have since received my credit note.

My question is – how much did this cost?  Not just in the actual time it took for them to respond to me, for me to respond to them but in that negative customer experience right at the start of our relationship.  I am only a small customer to them, losing my custom would not bring them to their knees – but who knows what I will become, who else I might refer to them (or not).  What should have been the start of a nice shiny relationship was tarnished from the outset.  And still is for me – though I did laugh at myself for feeling so pleased about getting the 12p credit note!  

Maybe this happens to a lot of new customers and they just laugh at the ridiculously small charge and ponder the absurdity of it, maybe if I hadn’t already been a bit annoyed with the early sales pressure and grumpy from the day before (unrelated), I too would have laughed it off.  But what if they don’t?  

In a previous role, one of my projects involved working on software improvements that had the sole objective of bringing in a competitor’s customers.  Those customers did not like how they were being treated, the arrogance of their current provider (the market leader) and were willing to sacrifice some of the functionality to just not be with them anymore.  Revenue in millions was coming down to the customer experience – not of the software but the company itself.

Is it worth taking the risk of your customer experience being tarnished, when with some communication between departments, understanding between the two teams (sales & billing) of how things work, they could probably iron out this relatively minor glitch.

When you work through your internal processes, do you work in a silo?  Or do you work together to ensure that the customer experience is as bright and friendly as you would want if you were the customer?

Now – having shared this with you, I am going to forgive them for their 12p invoice and their keenness for me to take advantage of their product and just get on with using it.  

I’d love to know your thoughts on the importance of the customer experience and whether you consider it in all your different processes?