by Colin Jowell

I’m not going to bore you with the details of my latest debacle in trying to purchase a home appliance. Suffice to say that it involves three days of house arrest waiting for delivery, and three compensatory Christmas turkeys.

The reason why I won’t bore you is because the details are irrelevant - EVERYONE has one of those stories. And the central point in all of those stories is a point at which the person with whom you did the transaction says, “I’m sorry, but they don’t work for us”. Whether it’s delivery people, call centre operators, tradies or installers, almost every business seems to, at some point, give away a part of the customer’s journey.  When things go wrong, that customer can be deprived of the product or service they have paid for or, at the very least, their experience of it is less than perfect.   

What is to blame here is outsourcing. Yes, that’s a hyperlink to the Wikipedia definition.  Outsourcing is such a part of contemporary life – I couldn’t believe that it’s a term that only reached popularity in the last 20 years! 

I could go further and blame consultants for the perpetual recommendation of the outsourcing strategy. Though I can tell you (from my former life as a consultant) that when I was writing spreadsheets recommending the outsourcing of a particular function, we generally only recorded cost savings. The revenue hit from disgruntled customers was often “too hard to quantify” or, in some cases, explained away on the basis that the “specialist outsource solution” would not only yield savings, but a more professional skill set for the task, and therefore a better customer experience!

The reality though, and we can say this for certain 20 years on, is that outsourced experiences are, more often than not, the cause of branding failure. People notoriously hate offshore call centres. Some have called this racist. But I think it’s really about a subconscious signal: the experience you are about to receive is totally disconnected from the brand promise you bought into. The potential for the person not giving a damn, or uttering the immortal words “that’s a different department” is very high, and your heart sinks.

Disconnecting the brand experience leaves the customer in no man’s land. 

When the terribly friendly iinet call centre person tells you that the line you purchased is owned by Telstra and therefore it’s their fault, it’s brand fraud.

Harvey Norman may have complained bitterly about online competition, but if you look at what some of their online competition promise there is still a massive gap in the market and further opportunity to make things way better for customers. Kogan may cite home delivery as a proof point, but without reference to any of the things that matter e.g:

  • how long is the delivery window?
  • will it be on time?
  • A guaranteed service promise based on the quality of the experience is still an opportunity that’s wide open. Instead, retailers feed the beast of sales and price-driven marketing, scratching their heads as margins slowly decline.

At the end of the day, all businesses must operate efficiently but a brand needs to operate efficiently too.  Spending money making promises that cannot be kept is 100% Guaranteed Wasted.

Things to think about:

  • If you outsource do you have a fail-safe to take responsibility and “complete the journey” for your customer?
  • Are you tracking customer satisfaction and recommendation at every point of the journey, especially after the purchase transaction has taken place?
  • Are you thinking realistically about potential forgone revenue as a result of “operational efficiency”?
  • Are you ignoring the obvious flaws in your experience, hoping that if you market something else, people won’t mind?