I recently wrote about why it’s so important to be conscious of how you communicate information to your customers (see Customer confusion is costing service providers dearly).

In this post I’d like to tackle another of my bête noir’s of customer experience – the anonymous communication.

I cannot believe in this day and age, I have to point out that no-one likes anonymous. But to put this into context, fraudsters are better at personalising their communications to me than many large enterprises.

Why would I respond, or trust, any communication that doesn’t prove you know me?

Yet there are numerous examples of this floating around in our environment. Here are two that drive me mad.

  • Companies that provide a generic address for correspondence rather than a personalised one.
  • Letters that come from ‘the company’ rather than from a named individual.

It doesn’t matter what the purpose of the correspondence is, people like to talk to people and they want to know what that person’s name is. Many service providers have fixed this in their call centre scripts – expecting the CSR to introduce themselves to the caller – but not all. For those that haven’t already done this, consider the horrible imbalance in a conversation where the CSR knows the name and background of the caller but doesn’t introduce themselves.

I encounter the anonymous problem a lot when contacting companies’ press or analyst offices. Here is a contact address or number that’s aimed at a very small number of influential people that a company wants to talk to. Yet, many still provide an enquiries@ or press@ email address or a generic phone number. No person is named. Even if the enquiry is going to be fielded by a group of people, it’s still always better to give a human name. I just can’t be bothered to talk to any company that can’t be bothered to give me a more personalised contact. Now imagine how that multiplies up when you’re dealing with customers.

One of the reasons people use instant messaging is that usually built into the interaction is the name of the person or AI dealing with the enquiry. I don’t care whether the real name of the person is Fred Smith, or not. It just makes it easier for me to say ‘Hi Fred’. It humanises the conversation. I’d prefer to be given the authentic name of the person, because that’s even better. But any name is better than no name.

Now consider this interaction I had with the NHS recently. They wrote me a letter that began ‘Dear Parent or Carer’. Not only did they not know my name, but they didn’t even know the relationship I had to my child. The letter was from a new organisation that is providing joined up healthcare to ensure children have had all their healthchecks, immunisations and provides easy access for parents to all the services that are there to support their child. They then asked me to provide all the basic data about my child (again), along with details of their health, family situation and ethnic origin. They finished the unsigned letter with ‘yours faithfully XX team’.

I rang the helpline number (to a generic NHS call centre) to find out what this was all about. The CSR said she didn’t know but would get someone to call me. Despite all the fuss about GDPR, they were expecting me to provide a huge range of personal details and then either mail it back to an unspecified person or, worse still, hand it back in to school. The woman who returned my call left me a message to say if I didn’t want to provide the details not to return the letter.

At the weekend I have a conversation with a friend where she told me how annoyed she gets at organisations ringing her and then saying – “we need to ask you some questions to identify you”. Her response – like many people’s – “you rang me, so you identify yourself first. I’m not giving out personal details to someone I don’t know”.

This is the sort of anonymous craziness and poor ID management that infests large organisations. It ranges from irritating, to experience disrupting to downright dangerous. As much as we like to talk about personalisation, digitalisation, customer centric experiences, cyber security and data protection many organisations fail at the first hurdles by not identifying themselves.

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa helps B2B service providers improve their commercial results and the customer experience they deliver through research, insight and analysis that builds effective strategy. She is a judge of the GSMA GloMo's for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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