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Jon Dean
404 Error – great customer service not found
Written by Jon Dean on
Last year I wrote about customer experience and the compromises customers will make for a cheaper product. The example I used was Ryanair, commercially successful despite a reputation for lousy service, mean luggage allowances and opaque pricing. Since then (probably not as a result of my article) the airline has transformed its customer strategy, retreating for example on its more extreme threats to charge for on-board toilet use or introduce standing flight tickets. Apparently, shareholders had complained the company’s reputation was limiting its growth potential.

I was drawn to revisit this topic by another recent experience, this time with my company pension provider.  Keen to review my investment performance, I logged on to the customer website.  With low expectations from previous experience, I found my account balance easily enough, but tracking the performance fund by fund was painfully manual.  Modern retail platforms such as Hargreaves or Fidelity show this basic information on a straightforward dashboard.  In my case identifying performance against benchmark and checking charges meant drilling into and interpreting the key investor information documents (KIIDs) one by one and making notes on paper.

After about half an hour I had identified my underperforming “dog funds”; I set aside the forthcoming weekend to begin the process of researching suitable replacements.  Saturday morning came and I was thwarted by some site maintenance; yes – the dreaded 404 error!  No advance warning of site downtime, broken page links and ultimately, a new site design that if anything made my job of research even harder.  I lost track of the time I spent over the weekend but it was probably three or four hours before I had all the required information to select my target funds.  I had better things to do by now and set aside the switching task for later.

The fun recommenced one evening the next week.  With my pension plan I can make separate switches and redirects, as well as allocating regular and single premiums to different funds.  Great for choice, but what I wanted was a one-and-done re-balance of all funds.  At this point I had to get the pocket calculator out to work out my switch percentages.  Then, in the redirect step, I had to re-enter all my fund selections (twice) rather than modifying my existing settings.  It took another two hours to be satisfied all my changes had been submitted.  The air was blue by this point, and I wasted no opportunity to respond to the customer questionnaire.  Would I recommend this company to friends and family based on my online experience? 0 out of 10.

Does my provider lose out from this?  Clearly as a corporate scheme member, I am effectively a captive customer of theirs.  Since I like my job, I’m not going anywhere else soon.  Nonetheless as the “pension guru” among my circle of friends and family I often get asked for help - I always stress I am not qualified to give advice - and I will doubtless retell this story many times, without allowing the provider anonymity.  In the same way that positive customer experiences lead to the best kind of advertising for your brand (that is, free and trusted) the corollary is also true.  Customer-facing websites, like their face to face and telephone cousins, need to be designed for the convenience of the consumer first, not simply as data input forms to suit internal processes.

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