Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Accountants Ruin Customer Experience and Other Cautionary Tales

I am always amazed at how smart people can make stupid products. The quickest path to bad products is not bad engineers though. It's good engineers listening to accountants, especially cost accountants. Don't get me wrong, accountants are themselves usually good people and pretty smart. They just see the world in a certain way, as a giant spreadsheet. Make a cost number smaller, the bottom line gets bigger. Makes sense but not for customer experience.

A case in point is the new ATM at my local bank ( HSBC – “The world's local bank”). For the past 30 years, since the dawn of the ATM, these awesome machines have accepted deposit envelopes. While I am the first to admit it stinks to be stuck behind someone in line who didn't fill out the envelope before walking up to the machine (why is that anyway?), envelopes serve an important purpose in the deposit process.

  • They keep everything nicely bundled. This way you don't have checks floating around your car or flying away in the breeze.

  • They keep your deposit protected. Envelopes help make sure your money does not get crumpled, twisted, folded, spindled, or mutilated.

  • Envelopes aggregate your checks into one transaction. One envelope, one action. Done.

Given that envelopes are an important part of the customer experience when depositing at an ATM, why in the name of all that is intelligent in the universe would you eliminate them. Why indeed but HSBC has done just that. Their new ATMs will not give you an envelope and the machine will not accept one. So instead of taking my five checks as a unit I have to feed them in one at a time. Cash has to be fed in separately as well. The result – lousy customer experience. Here's the result:

  • It takes as many times longer to feed checks into the machine as there are checks. Five checks? Five times as long. Nice.

  • I am sure to have a check get away from me to be lost in the breeze or trashed in a way that the machine will not be able to process it. Thanks for the paranoia. As if I didn't have enough of that from banks.
  • Since it will take longer to process deposits, the folks behind me in line are bound to be more annoyed. Or have more opportunity to rob me. Now that's looking out for your customers HSBC!
  • I have to press a bunch more buttons raising the chance that I will make a mistake and have to spend more time correcting it or, more likely, start over. (Okay, for you statistics weenies out there – the chance is not higher, just the incidence since the number of tries is higher. You knew what I meant!)
  • Given all of that, more people will now go into the branch, overwhelming the few tellers left leading to even longer lines and delays. I get goosebumps thinking of that one.

  • I now have more incentive to take money out than to put money in. Huh? Don't banks need money going in faster than out... oh forget about it. It's too stupid for words.

Why would HSBC be so willing to wreck the customer experience of a technology that benefits them as much as it does the customer? Accountants, that's why. No matter what they might say (“Our research shows that customers like to punch buttons until they have carpal tunnel syndrome.”) this is an obvious attempt to not pay for envelopes. Someone in the bank calculated that so many pennies per transaction will be saved by eliminating envelopes. It probably never even occurred to them how it would negatively effect customers. That doesn't show up on the ledger sheet right away.

One more thing this requires to happen though – a gutless vendor. Likely scenario:

HSBC Bank: “Can you make an ATM that doesn't use envelopes?”

Diebold (ATM maker) : Sure! With out new optical scanning technology we can have customers feed checks in without an envelope. They will then be scanned with 98% accuracy!”

HSBC Bank: “Great! Let's do it.”

as opposed to:

HSBC Bank: “Can you make an ATM that doesn't use envelopes?”

Diebold: “Um. Are you sure? I mean, won't that really annoy your customers?”

HSBC Bank: “Well, how so?”

Diebold: “Where to start? Okay..”

ten minutes later...

Diebold: “and we would be making it easier for people to take money out and harder to put it in. You being a bank and all, they doesn't sound like your business model.”

HSBC Bank: “Holy CDO! Um. Forget we ever asked. And remember, this conversation was under NDA. Whew.”

So remember folks – the best vendor is the one willing to tell you what you don't want to hear even at the risk of a sale. That is the vendor that would not let you walk off the HSBC cliff. Also remember that the customer experience generates revenue. Never, ever even look to cut costs there. That is the path to destruction. Spend money there even if it means cutting executive salaries.

No comments: