Silo Smashing Is How Brands Will Live Or Die Digitally

Every now and then I tell a brand something they can either see as a bullet to dodge or an opportunity to do something better. There's never anything in it for me, I just enjoy pointing out something that is really flawed in a brand's customer experience. If there is anything familiar in your customer experience that you read below, my advice is to change it as soon as possible. I've said it, and many others far wiser are saying it too, customer experience and CRM are the new digital marketing. It's that simple.

To show both attitudes, Halfords yesterday decided to dodge a bullet, just a few months after Naked Wine thanked me for a couple of notes and changed the way people log in. The point for my favourite wine brand was that it appeared that I was signed in, as my name was on top of the page, but none of the "my wine" section worked. Curiously, it was because I wasn't signed in, although the site welcomed me by name. They've since changed it and I bet you a lot of people find it much easier to access the "my" part of the site. It wasn't just me -- the site really was contriving against itself and stopping me from ordering my favourite wine. The oversight was soon put right.

So, to Halfords: Any brand that wants loyalty online must be useful and remember when the annual MOT inspection on your car is likely to be due is a useful service, particularly if backed up by a text input box on its site that invites motorists to put in their licence plate number to find out when their current MOT will expire and the vehicle will no longer be legal to drive on the road. The trouble is, the service doesn't work. I kid you not -- all you get back is an apology that the service doesn't work. You might have thought it was worth warning people before they go through inputting their details, wouldn't you? A sane digital marketer would surely insist the service were withdrawn or a simple "Coming Soon" put next to the look-up services text box.

But it's OK, you think -- I have an account set up, that will remind me when I last got my MOT done with Halfords, add on a year and "hey presto" we're cooking on proverbial gas. Unfortunately, the account page only serves to tell you your address, which is a piece of information that most people already know. So when you dig out a telephone number, the kind customer services agent goes down the registration route, only to find it doesn't work. Eventually he or she can tell you when you last booked in and then it's back online to complete the booking. And when I say complete, I really do mean complete because there's no option to sign in once you're halfway through the process to save you adding the address details it already knows.

To give Halford its due, the online lookup is actually working today, perhaps it got fixed after my note? Nevertheless, it is odd this useful information doesn't appear on the 'my account' section of the Web site when it was Halfords that last carried out the MOT and service.

So I tell the head of digital customer experience at Halford this. The reply? That's the auto centre part of the business, you'll have to tell them. It defies belief, doesn't it? Someone sends a polite note pointing out the hurdles they throw in the path of customers who are trying to be loyal and the reply is to take it someone else (who isn't specified or cc'd in) with what she was probably reading as a complaint but I was careful to make sure was actually a helpful note.

Interestingly, when I was on the phone to their help centre, I asked the question I always ask customer service agents -- is there a prize at the end of the month for someone who feeds back the greatest insight from a customer's call? If not, why not? I wasn't surprised to hear that the people who answer the phones don't have a formal way of feeding back what customers are telling them. It came as little surprise that it was not unusual for people to call in because the Web site wasn't working as well as promised. My suggestion to the very kind and helpful lady I spoke to was to go to her boss immediately and get a bottle of fizz set aside each month for the best customer insight. I doubt very much if this happened.

Customer call centres generally ask themselves all the wrong questions around inward metrics rather than how well they solved an issue and how they helped the wider organisation learn from customer feedback. Everyone might have been furious about an issue that will send the company down, but don't worry -- although we haven't told anyone about it, we did manage to answer each call within x number of rings.

The question I am still waiting an answer on from the head of digital customer experience is whether she feels customers think in a silo like she believes they should. If Halfords is plastered all over an MOT reminder (without the useful addition of the due date) and you are invited to click on to Halfords to arrange a Halfords MOT or call Halfords on this number, do customers not think they are dealing with Halfords? Do they make a distinction between the half of the building that fixes your car and the half that will sell you a bike? I humbly submit that this isn't how customers think. We don't apply a brand's internal silos, we just think brand.

So if you work in or for a brand, ask yourself these questions. Do the services you offer online work, have you tried being your own customer, is the "my" part of the site storing truly useful information to speed up the customer journey, do you have a mechanism to hear back from front line staff what consumers are thinking and, crucially, are you transferring self-imposed silos on customers? If so, it's time to get to work. If you disagree, well, I guess we'll be writing about you soon enough for all the wrong reasons.

Next story loading loading..