Surprise! Customers actually use online services

21.5.2014 -

Even the best online service can turn into an ordeal for customers if it isn’t supported by the rest of the organization, or if it was only developed as a novelty. If the concept behind the online service doesn’t extend throughout the entire service chain, the customers’ experiences will be worse than if the service didn’t exist at all.

Are marketers repeating the mantra of customer experience in vain – like the boy who cried wolf? Not according to research by Watermark Consulting, which found a clear link between business success and superior customer experiences. The six-year study showed that the leaders in providing positive customer experiences made three times as much profit as others. This means that companies that fail to provide good customer experiences will continue to lag behind the leaders.

I like online booking services. I particularly like to use my barber shop’s online reservation system, which allows me to make an appointment at any time of day or night. In addition, the barber shop is always on time, and I never have to wait for more than 5 – 10 minutes. The application isn’t the sexiest but it’s easy to use, straightforward enough – and works like an old Nokia 3510. Above all, it’s supported and complemented by the rest of the service chain.

But even if an online service is the most functional, there’s no guarantee that it’ll provide a good customer experience. I’ll illustrate by sharing a few first-hand experiences.

Doctor’s appointment or development proposal?

My son needed a medical certificate in order to obtain his driver’s license. I advised him to make an appointment with a local private medical center. The chain’s website offered the option of making an appointment online. Customers could select a date and time from a calendar, following which the system offered the customer a list of doctors who were available at the specified date and time.

At the medical center, the experience wasn’t entirely painless. It turned out that the doctor recommended by the system didn’t provide medical certificates for driver’s licenses. Additionally, my son hadn’t filled out a preliminary information form. The web service failed to mention which services could be reserved online and it didn’t prompt customers to fill in the preliminary information form.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a nurse mentioned that no one used the online service to make appointments. However she very generously promised to relay our development proposals to the “nerds” responsible for developing the service.
So an electronic service had been added to the website of this medical clinic chain, simply because it needed to be done. Unfortunately no one had completely thought through how the service should serve the customer.

The clinic sold doctor’s services online for items such as medical appointments as well as laboratory and consultation services. The reservation system should be the clinic’s online store since it sells medical appointments. An online appointment service would therefore also require a product information management system – in other words the option to choose a specific kind of appointment and its related services. And why not include special offers, such as “Today’s special: Two lab tests for the price of one.”

Tire change appointment buried in paper work

Another example involves my quest to purchase summer tires. The tire retail outlet had also introduced an eCommerce service on its website and seemed to offer a hassle-free sales experience.

Using the stylish, easy-to-use and functional site I was able to purchase tires from an international chain’s online store. Moreover, I quickly found the right tire model and size by entering my vehicle registration number; I further selected the appropriate tire change option and found a suitable time and date for the tire change at a local outlet.

However, when I turned up at the tire shop with my old tires I was politely informed by a sales clerk that she couldn’t find my reservation. I showed her my order confirmation and explained that I had purchased tires from their eCommerce site. “Sorry, where?” she asked. After a brief search she found the paper receipt in a desk drawer – fortunately, it had the required information. The mechanic didn’t get to finish his lunch, but I got my new summer tires fitted as promised.

Once again, here was a case in which the product worked beautifully, but where the organization clearly wasn’t prepared for customers to actually make use of the online service provided. The tire shop’s reservation system did a great job of displaying appointments made by phone and by hand, but the online purchases were conspicuously absent from the service chain. In designing the online store, the tire chain had completely forgotten about the local tire shops that deliver the products and services to the customers. They had forgotten how important it is to integrate the systems.

An effective process consultant would have been worth his weight in gold in designing the entire customer experience during an online store purchase. A well-executed online tire shop would offer a seamless omnichannel experience where products and services are sold online and the brick-and-mortar stores engage in online shopping with their resources.
Both experiences demonstrate that no matter how smooth and “state-of-the-art” the online service may be, it may offer a poor customer experience if the service chain doesn’t work right through to the very end.

A competitor’s online store shouldn’t be the sole reason a company sets up its own eCommerce site. It should be driven by a genuine desire to improve the service as well as the customer experience and ultimately to create a more successful business operation.

Today a good customer experience offers a competitive advantage. In the future it will become essential for the survival of a business.

Jyrki Korkeaniemi

Jyrki Korkeaniemi

I am a cloud architect, so my head is in the clouds, and clouds are in my mind all the time. I have many years of experience in different systems and their management, but learning new things is what keeps me going. Although I keep an open mind about technology at work, at home I prefer the traditional user interfaces: books, newspapers, radio, and face-to-face conversations.

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