Is customer channel-hopping hiding UX problems?

October 11, 2018

As a company with many channels, you should always be looking at the ways in which customers connect with you. Movement across channels often reflects customer choice, but it also may reveal poor UX in a channel. In other words, ‘channel hopping’ is often driven by a failure of usability or a lack of functionality.

I was recently speaking at a J.D. Power roundtable on the topic of employee experience in the contact center. The point of the presentation, one that I have given many times, is that good design is hard work, and good design begins with field research not in Photoshop. When doing field research in call centers, we want to understand the motivations of why customers call. It’s fascinating to listen to customer stories because you realize that, in today’s omnichannel world, a majority of customers do not choose the call center as their first point of contact to resolve a problem. Which is good to know except what often happens is that customers fail to get resolution in one of the other channels (often related to poor UX) and feel forced to call.

In one concrete (and very typical example), customers call because they don’t understand their paper bill. The root cause of this is that the bill is difficult to understand. Information is in the wrong place, numbers don’t appear to add up, taxes are confusingly represented, critical information may be missing, etc. They may try first to go online to get more detail and may or may not be met with success. So, the poor design of a paper invoice results in customers spending time trying to resolve and ultimately calling to discuss it. Then the customer runs headlong into an interactive voice response system (IVR) and gets even more frustrated by choices that do not match the reason for calling in his mind and with excessive hold times. By the time the customer gets to the agent, there’s a lot of pent up frustration. Much of this could be fixed by using a UX research approach to improving the usability and utility of the paper bill. We’ve fixed many paper bills and driven down both the volume of calls and length of calls regarding bill education from the call center.

This is but one example. There are others where poor design in one channel drives callers to agents (e.g., self-installation of modems, credit decisions, etc.). All of these are examples of channel-hopping due to poor attention to the UX. And, these are all self-inflicted wounds that increase cost to the business and reduce customer satisfaction.

One lesson for UX professionals is that when trying to understand the current ‘customer journey’ it is important to catalog the times when the customer channel hopped because the prior channel failed to meet needs. Doing this gets at a root cause of the problem and tells researchers, designers, and developers where to concentrate efforts.

Ultimately, you should listen to reasons customers contact you and use those reasons to diagnose problems in your other channels that may be hiding. Pay attention to all your channels and continue to monitor for channel-hopping, then focus on fixing the problems you find.