Back in the 1960s, a revolution happened in banking. The ATM arrived making it possible for customers to withdraw money automatically without standing in line at the bank office. This made it a lot easier and faster for people to get their cash, they could do it outside of office hours without going to an actual bank and so customer satisfaction eventually went… down.
A study in the Harvard Business Review* has looked at this quite peculiar phenomenon. Something gets introduced that makes the service better, and yet we don’t fully appreciate it. The study highlights the reason for this being the lack of operational transparency. So what does that mean?
In the case of the bank, though most people probably didn’t enjoy going to the bank office, they could still appreciate the time and effort the cashier had to go through to make sure you got your money when you were there. With an ATM just spitting out your money within seconds, the whole process didn’t really feel like that much of an effort from the bank anymore. So for good customer experience it seems it’s not only the end-result that matters, but also how impressed we are with the effort we feel has been put into helping us. If I order something in a restaurant and it takes me 40 minutes to get it, I’d probably be annoyed. But if it turns out this was an extremely sophisticated dish and the chef explains to me all the complicated steps they’re doing and shows me in the kitchen how it’s getting prepared, I might instead get rather impressed and not mind the long wait.
As with the ATM, this can become a problem when we automate services. Even if it’s faster and better, it may not be as appreciated. For the above-mentioned study, they looked at ways for how to improve this. One example was a solution by travel agency Kayak. Part of their service was finding you the best flights online to a destination. Since this was automated it can be difficult for a customer to grasp if this meant a lot of work or not. Adding a progress bar while the search is being made is one easy way of illustrating some work is being done. Kayak though, showed just how many records it was going through and what airlines it was currently scanning. It turned out this made users feel more content with the service, and also less sensitive to the time it took to load results.
This phenomenon can be considered also for mobile operators looking to automate more of its services.
If a subscriber for example uses self-care for technical troubleshooting, it may be difficult to grasp all the complex things happening in the network and what is now being done to try and find potential problems. There are however ways to give the customer a better idea of what’s going on behind the curtains. For an initial search, instead of just a progress bar, the service can show how many data transactions it’s going through to find potential issues. Different categories that are being looked at, such as potential coverage-, device-, or roaming issues can also be shown to illustrate that the check is thorough.
There are some traps to try and avoid here though. It can have a negative impact if you show things customers don’t want to see. For a mobile operator, even when a customer has given permission for you to troubleshoot their technical history, it can easily get creepy if a self-care app starts showing past location data and call logs while searching for an issue. If a trouble ticket is escalated and it takes a very long time before anything happens to it, customers will also likely get frustrated since feeling you’re neglecting them. Another problem is if your self-care really shows how it’s going through all these technical things happening in the network, but rarely actually finds any issues.
Another word of caution is about manipulating what you show as things happening in the background. It’s fine to show for example different files flying by the screen to illustrate search in progress since people understand this is to graphically show what’s going on. If however the service tells me it’s going through millions of records of data when in fact it’s doing something else it can, besides being very shady from an ethical point of view, really backfire if customers start noticing that what you’re telling them you’re doing is not true.
And though transparency is important, it’s also important not to flood subscribers with information unless they ask for it. The status of an ongoing case should be available for the customer when they’re actively checking, but it’s not advisable to send push notifications to the customer about every single update on it. Once it’s resolved, a push notification is very good though.
Finally, even as things get more automated, it’s still important to keep the human aspect. Customers should still be given the option to speak to a person if they want to. And if self-care is used to solve a customer’s issue, an agent can still reach out after it has been solved to verify that everything is ok.
So by giving your automatic services more operational transparency, you can avoid ending up in a situation like quoted in the old TV-show Futurama – “when you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all”.
External sources: (https://hbr.org/2019/03/operational-transparency)