Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A failure of empathy

Telstra is a major Australian telco. CEO David Thodey has a stated goal of making the organisation more customer focused. This is laudable and necessary. Thodey suggested in June that it could take 5 years to achieve.

It occurred to me recently that Telstra exhibits a failure of empathy. Take as a fairly typical example the notice shown in the image. It informs the customer (me in this instance) that their account is overdue, but it fails to tell me the relevant phone number.

I find it amazing that an organisation can fail so utterly to speak the language of its customers. When I first saw this notice, I didn't know whether it was for my mobile phone or my home phone. I associate my phones with phone numbers, not with account numbers.

Telstra may argue that it's necessary to use account numbers, since some customers will have multiple phone numbers on a single account. This explanation has some credibility when it comes to businesses, but even in that circumstance I would expect to see at least one associated phone number listed.

If anyone involved in the wording of this notice had put themselves in the place of a customer, it would surely have occurred to them that providing a phone number would be extremely useful, and that failing to do so creates (or reinforces) a perception of Telstra as an uncaring monolith. The idea that I should have to go through my records to do the cross-referencing is ludicrous.

In user experience design, we use very simple techniques (such as scenarios and personas) to help put us in the shoes of our users.

On its path to become customer focused, a useful step for Telstra would be to examine at all its outgoing communications, consider the context in which they may be received, and adjust them accordingly.

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