Monday, October 01, 2007

BT: Another example of companies from Mars, customers from Venus.

When will they learn? When we we learn?
I've just had the joy of a bill from BT (who provide my phone and broadband access at home).
It's another cracking example of the dehumanising of customer relationships that's going on at large 'scale efficencies' companies. Perhaps they are being infected by the logic of customer relationship mechanisms. Perhaps they have to think less digitally about this (by which I mean on-off) more organically (allowing choices to develop).
Here's the issue this time:
BT sends me a bill. The front page says I have a credit balance of £250 (approx). It also says that I need take no action.
I pay my bill by direct debit.
The next page shows the same £250 amount as a minus figure. Confused? Yep, me too.
And those of you who have read previous posts about the confusion companies seem to revel in creating in their customers (Dehumanising customer relationships, Sprint Nextel, and When is a Free Download not a Free Download) will know I'm not a big fan.
So I rang up. I felt the customer did need to take some action. Lucky I did.
My question was a simple one: "Please can you tell me what 'credit balance' means".
This simple question, rephrased also, for absolute clarity to: "does it mean I owe you money or that you owe me money?" was evaded a total of seven times until I asked if the person I was speaking to couldn't answer it perhaps they could pass me to someone who could?
Answers every time included a by-rote explanation of how the billing system works. That's what I mean by the digital approach.
In other words I ask a question which includes certain terms 'credit, balance' and the computer at the other end - pardon me - the human being at the other end - starts to reel off the customer script.
Turns out (after some persistance on my part) that BT owe me £250, that I am paying twice as much a month as a I should be, and that the amount they owe me is rising by the day.
I suggested that perhaps this was cause for the customer to take some action. Actually - if your customer is out of pocket to the tune of £250 and you are rifling through his pockets to get even more of his cash that you don't need on a daily basis, you might think it incumbant on the company to take some action.
'The customer relationship mechanism' clearly isn't up to dealing with customers. What it is very good at piling extra cash, that isn't BTs, into its coffers.
Not good.
I noted that the call was recorded. I thanked the person who dealt with me and asked that BT do two things (I should say, they had already by this stage agreed to refund my overpayment immediately and to cut my monthly direct debit in half... maybe I should have asked for an interest payment?)

1. State on your bills YOU OWE US "£x" or "WE OWE YOU "£X".
2. Don't tell someone you owe money - and will owe even more on a daily basis if no action is taken, that no action is required. To continue with this policy is at best a dereliction of duty.

Big business is headed in the wrong direction. As I've said before, just as their customers are finding their power at the edge, want to control from the edge, companies are centralising theirs. They are going to the centre, we are going to the edge.

Where the customer is in contact with your company you must allow them to have conversations with empowered people - not people whose only response is one governed by answering questions by rote - dictated by a CRM.

When they do this they don't listen. When they don't listen a conversation is very hard. Every market is a conversation.

There are enough clues there for BT. I'll send you my bill - see if you can work out what it means.

(The title for this post is taken from the chapter in Communities Dominate Brands, see recommended blogs, left).

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?