Today the topic that is at the top of my mind is the challenge of integrating across silos. The reason that this has a raised visibility is that I have been working through the logistics of a move. The coordination involved in a successful move has not changed over the years, however I would have thought that the degree of difficulty in navigating the requirements to successfully coordinate a move would have been reduced as a result of the advances in technology. I’m sorry to say that my assumption was completely opposite of reality, in fact If I didn’t know better I would be suspicious that I entered the integration twilight zone when dealing with the utilities.
A while back I discussed the impressive level of integration that the airlines have achieved across business and technology silos. The airlines have invested in new technology to integrate across both business and technology silos with great success. The result of this investment is that the customer experience provides the same results whether the contact is by telephone, web or mobile applications. In addition, you are able to monitor the results of your contact and experience across technologies and platforms with the same results. The airlines are one very good example of the direction that integration practices and technology capabilities can help a company to achieve. Everyone, everywhere is striving to provide the same high level of service to the customer across any channel.
Now let's cross over into the integration twilight zone that the major utilities call customer service. To illustrate I will recap an actual experience I had with one of the utilities. It started with a call on Sunday which was a non-starter, after spending five minutes in telephone ‘integrated’ response system that included explaining the reason for my call and providing all of my customer information; I was politely informed by the recorded message that I would have to call again during normal business hours to speak to a representative! So I dutifully called again during normal business hours, followed the cryptic recorded instructions which included entering my personal information so they could access my customer information to ‘help to serve me better’. After selecting the service I desired, I was dropped into another series of questions, where I was asked to enter my personal information so that the system could access my customer information to ‘help to serve me better’. After entering all of this information and again selecting the service I desired, I was informed that I would need to speak to a representative (alleluia!). So I was transferred to the representative queue for ‘personalized’ help, but before I could reach that salvation, I was put into hold until a representative could help me. Unfortunately, I still had to pass through the hold sequence waiting for a representative to become available. This is when I discovered a new insidious trap developed by these utilities; They would save your information and call you when a representative became available. This sounded great to me, but when I was called back, I had to start all over again providing my personal information so the representative could look up my account to ‘help serve me better’. It was at that point that I was disconnected!
All kidding aside, I did finally complete the gauntlet and it provided me with some insights that were somewhat surprising. I think that the key difference between what I would rate as great services and very poor services was industry related. The positive experience came in industries with a great deal of competition, airlines and retail for example. The poor experience came from an industry that is monopolistic, utilities. This brings me to the conclusion that monopolistic industries are not necessarily concerned with customer service because their customers have nowhere else to go. This, I think, is something that we should be aware of in market encouragement for growing the too big to fail companies - they have no reason to provide services or manage risk because there is no other place to go.
And now for the audience participation portion of the show...
What additional examples can you provide from the last 20 years to show the both the positive and negative experiences with integration across silos? Have you experienced improvements or deterioration of service over time and was it related to competition or the lack of competition?