Had an interesting experience with my telco provider yesterday. Over the summer I’ve had a couple of calls purporting to make me offers as a “valued customer”.

Inside my head, the light bulb says that must mean I’m out of contract and so that’s the first thing I asked. The first guy hung up. The second time, they offered to look into it and started to take me through security. I declined since they’d called me so I didn’t see why I’d go to the effort. And I guessed I’d fail it, because I always fail with providers I don’t talk to very often, especially in this case where they’ve got “form”. Getting digits from my sim card is never easy….

Anyway yesterday I thought I’d better check out my account – because my phone wouldn’t switch on and I needed support. There’s me thinking Apple had built in some redundancy given the BBC was running articles on all the new phones coming to market this week. Not least a long vaunted iPhone5.

Of course I failed online access but at least the help now shows you where to get the digits off your sim card without pulling your phone to bits so you can request a password renewal. Which they texted to me straight away. Well at least that’s what it said, but my phone didn’t work.

So back to pulling the phone to bits and eventually I got it to work – self service at its best!

Then I got my text and tried to access my account. But the new password they sent still failed after several attempts. I was about to give up and tweet a whinge. But I searched them and tweeted them instead. Good twitter presence showed me three people who were handling support. And I tweeted them 3 different things. Is there a delay after new password is sent and before it works? How do I find out if I’m out of contract? When are you selling iphone5.

About 4 hours later I got 2 tweeted replies from the same person. I could go online to check my contract. We have no info on new iphone5. I tweeted back and pointed out the connection – lo, it was a real person, who acknowledged the connection between my emails and apologised for a busy day. I could tweet customer services to find out. I tweeted what’s the difference between support and CS? And gave up.

I’m still not in my account today. I still don’t know if I’m out of contract and I’ll still want a new iPhone. I’ll have to ring. At least my phone is working today.

Multi-channel confusion

This is a great example of the “call centre” problem merely being transferred to the social channel. Twitter isn’t great for conversation, especially if people are still under production pressures without adequate tools or information or answers to key questions and cross channel consistency.

Compare this to my utility provider – I’ve had the same hassle for years with not being able to get into my account. They have added a chat button. I got help online whilst in the website. The advisor got me up and running with links provided and I was able to identify a few things I needed. And o a sepearate point, thanks to the govt midata initiative, I was able to download my own usage data and show them that according to their own data, they were still upping the direct debit too much as they have done for years.

Companies are learning…

1) Social isn’t a better interaction channel

2) Keeping customers in their web journey online, saving them effort, is working

3) There’s no substitute for joining up the thinking and then the journeys customers have

4) Make your security appropriate for infrequent users and what they need

5) Customer needs are not one dimensional – neither in support nor support/sales

To unlock these multi channel journeys starts with really understanding customer’s needs. What’s so surprising is that most telco customers’ basic needs haven’t changed in many years. Telcos have done a great job in addressing unnecessary customer effort – we know we collect the industry contact rate data. But there is still a long way to go to match overseas and tech support benchmarks.