Gifts I Thought Were Cool, As A Kid

It’s that time of year again! Presents! It might surprise you (not really) that I had a really nerdy wish list as a kid. I stand by most of my requests, but there are definitely a few items from my wish list that cause me to wonder, “what was I thinking?” I’ll share this once, and then we never have to talk about it again. That is, unless, you want me to bring up that crazy hairdo you had in the 80’s.

Much like that book your weird uncle got you or the hideous sweater your mother-in-law knitted, the gifts on this list aren’t actually gifts. They’re obligations. Ugh. Worst of all, you can’t return them. Let’s look at some gifts obligations we shouldn’t give our customers this year.

Complicated Phone Menus

I was always really impressed by Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, the phone menus that connect customers with a specific department or let them complete simple tasks like checking account balances. It seemed like a fun toy; it’s a wonder that I’m not a unified communications engineer these days. Unfortunately, IVRs aren’t much fun for those on the receiving end of them. They’ve gotten a bad reputation for being too long, not accepting the right input, or just generally giving you the run around. Voice recognition technology hasn’t universally fixed these problems. In any case, they often duplicate customer effort when facts must be repeated.

Multiple Concurrent Chats

I remember the first time I encountered a company offering live chat for customer service; I was amazed at what a great experience it was. Among chat’s many benefits was the opportunity for agents to handle multiple chats concurrently. I bought into the vendor myth that chat would bring hyper-efficiency to the contact center. This is why we don’t let fourteen year-olds drive cars. We often fail to consider the customer’s time in our ROI calculations, which makes chat appear to be a much better deal than what it is. Sure, we’ve reduced our cost to serve, but we’ve disproportionately increased the customer’s cost of dealing with us. Don’t even get me started on the all too common “channel pivot.”

Complicated Rewards Programs

I remember when the Kroger Card, the grocery chain’s rewards program, was first introduced. When these programs initially became popularized, I wanted to collect them all! Rewards programs look like a great deal on the surface, companies gain valuable insight into customers’ shopping habits and customers get more customized promotions. In the years since, rewards programs have become unnecessarily complex. The only thing straightforward about these programs is signing up. Redeeming rewards, on the other hand, can be difficult and confusing due to all of the restrictions that get tacked on over time. Customers who haven’t read all the fine print may feel misled or cheated, and that’s not the meaning of Christmas.

This time of year is great for taking a break, reconnecting with loved ones, and reflecting on how our year turned out. It’s also a great time to contemplate how you’ll give the gift of amazing customer experiences in the year ahead. Just don’t give the gift of more work. Happy holidays from Tin Cans & String!


Andrew Gilliam

Andrew Gilliam is a passionate customer experience innovator and change agent. He’s developed new employee portals, created effective surveys, and built silo-busting escalation systems. Andrew’s background in Information Technology put him on the front-lines of customer service as an IT Support Center Analyst. His vision: deliver Amazing Customer Service and Technical Support™. Learn more at andytg.com, follow @ndytg on Twitter, and connect on LinkedIn.

  1. Great gifts, Andrew! The Rewards Program that stings the most for me is Starbucks. Their first iteration was so straightforward and easy to track. The new system with the stars is way too confusing.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Jeremy! You raised a great point! Many rewards programs start out being fairly simple, but over time the rules, terms, and restrictions grow and can get very convoluted. It’s often a number of small things that add up to a bad experience.

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  2. Great gifts, Andrew! The Rewards Program that stings the most for me is Starbucks. Their first iteration was so straightforward and easy to track. The new system with the stars is way too confusing.

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