A Christmas Customer Experience Story

I have lived in Australia for almost two years, and while my family in Canada loses power due to ice storms and snow squalls, I sit writing this post in 38-degree Celsius heat as Sydney experiences the first heat wave of the summer (but not the last). So, this time of year does not at all feel like Christmas to me. However, there are certain inevitable experiences that remind me that yes, indeed, this is the festive time of the year. Christmas parties, decorations and lights, mobs and mobs of people doing their Christmas shopping (in shorts and T-shirts), and for at least the past decade, the now-inevitable act of waiting for holiday packages from online shopping to arrive.

This is where this Christmas story really begins. eCommerce shopping is now a stalwart of the holiday season, as savvy shoppers do their Christmas shopping online to avoid the crush of people at the shopping mall. While this is definitely a stress-saver, the online shopping experience produces a new kind of stress — the stress of wondering if the package ordered will arrive in time for the big day.

One of Forrester's customer experience key frameworks is called "the customer experience ecosystem." This ecosystem is an observation of the fact that companies that deliver good customer experiences understand that their businesses exist in a highly complex network that extends far beyond the walls of their headquarters. This includes partners like agencies, suppliers, tech vendors, contractors, etc., etc. And all of these other residents of the ecosystem can make or break a great customer experience.

As I stood in line at the Australia Post depot to pick up one of my online shopping packages, I was struck by two things: First, the two customers in line ahead of me had heated complaints about the fact that they had not received their packages at their homes, despite being home and waiting for the mailman to arrive. And, secondly, I noticed that the staff at the depot had heard all of these complaints before. But what they did was really interesting. They wrote the number of the Australia Post customer complaint number on every one of the brown cardboard boxes and encouraged the customers to call and lodge an official complaint. And they then explained that the people delivering the packages were contractors and did not answer to Australia Post rules and policies, and sometimes (shrug of the shoulders) they just didn't try to actually deliver the packages. Some of these contractors had worked out that they didn't need to actually try to deliver the packages — they just filled out a postcard and dropped it in the customer's postbox — and sometimes they didn't even bother filling out the card at all. The customer then had to make an unnecessary trip to the depot to wait in line to pick up the packages. The benefit to the contractor is unclear. 

I was in line, without the card, having been in that same line five times already for the same reason. I showed my mobile phone email with the tracking number and received my package . . . with the customer complaint number written clearly in indelible ink.

The lesson is this: The employees of Australia Post hated having frustrated customers complaining, they hated that the contractors were letting the system down, they probably hated having to write down that customer complaint number on packages, and they almost certainly hated the extra work the partners created for them in unnecessarily undelivered packages. And I'm sure the people on the other end of that phone number didn't like the increased volume of calls. The ecosystem was broken, but the end result was a lot of very unhappy customers — and a lot of unnecessary costs to Australia Post.

The first step to fixing this customer experience Christmas disaster is to understand that sometimes the bad experience is not caused by your company, but by people who are perceived by the customer to represent your company, even if they don't work directly for you.