I called three different companies today for different customer service concerns: 2 banks and 1 airline company. I needed to check due dates and account details. Despite my flashing temper, I noticed these things.

1) The first bank asked for my card number before allowing me to hear the dial in options. This means I got to talk to a representative approximately 30 seconds after I made the call. When I finally talked to a customer service rep (a lot of the hotlines nowadays try to minimize this; it’s ironic that it’s a thriving industry in the Philippines) they asked me for my card number again. Really, why?

2) I tried asking why there can’t be a fixed due date for my bills, because anyway, they have a fixed cut-off date. I got the answer — system limitation. So I said, “Well, fix the system!”

3) I lost a card for an airline service and wanted to get a replacement, but it turned out the card is just optional. In fact, all you need is your membership number and a valid ID. A replacement card costs US $12.

Insights gained:

1) A customer does not want to hog your customer support lines just to make you spend money; we want things solved as quick as possible. Thus, the best way to solve an issue is to solve it quickly. If a system asks a customer to keep inputting his card details and dial in options, it becomes annoying and barrier from the customer to ever calling again. That does not solve issues, it creates an entirely new one.

Apple stores, even though they are jam-packed and wild, have amazing customer service. I watched my brother and uncle test an iPod and buy it with a credit card within 5 minutes, without having to move from the spot where they tested the iPod. That solved the issue, which was to buy an iPod.

I’m comparing the Apple store experience with the customer hotline experience with bank 1. When you buy in a retail store, you expect to stand in line to pay. The Apple store took this expectation out and made it positive. On the other hand, you dial on the phone because you expect to get a quicker reply vs email or text. What customer hotlines now do is it makes the expectation of phone calls being quicker, negative. Now you have to wait and input so many numbers to talk to someone (Might as well bring us back to partyline days, since we like to regress that much).

For the record, bank 2 did not ask for my card number again. They already had it because I input it the first time. Even when I asked about details for my second card (which I had never input before), they accommodated it. The airline also didn’t need me to give my membership number again. So it can be done.

Random thought: Perhaps our systems are limited by their overly complex designs.

2) A system is a system; it is man-made. You can choose not to change it if there are no complaints, or you can change it if you are sure it will improve things. If there are complaints, that’s always a sign that you might want to look into it. In short, a system’s effectiveness is up to the person that makes and maintains it.

I’m assuming the system is based on “standard practices”, but sometimes, these “standard practices” don’t make sense. In the case of billing, a standardized cut off is done. Why can’t there be a standardized due date? I learned that there are no laws about due dates, so it can be done. The customer will have an easier time paying bills. The company will have an easier time expecting revenues, unless a chunk of their business is based on late fees (which is a risk, and reminds me of the gambling industry; *glares at credit card companies*).

3) Banks and airlines are two different industries, but it does not mean one cannot take what works in another and try it in theirs. Obviously there are different regulations covering the two industries, but there are overlaps (in this case, the use of cards). The airline membership card is optional; the credit card isn’t.

In Singapore I saw a place where just tapping the credit card unto the reader (without needing a signature!) credited the purchase, and that changes how credit cards are used. The App Store doesn’t require a physical card; it makes it optional. Things keep evolving, and the policies and systems need to keep improving, too. We should always be on the lookout for things that we can improve on. It may hurt a bit to make things easier for the customers. But remember, it’s the customers, specifically the middle class, that make your businesses thrive.