A new year’s resolution for brands who waste their customers’ time

Hamish Pringle is strategic advisor at 23red, former IPA director general, and has had five successful business books published. With an agency career spanning 26 years, he’s worked on more than 50 brands.

I opened the envelope, saw this friendly Santa face, and was filled with warm feelings of goodwill to all men. After all Christmas is a time for kind deeds and positive thoughts.

I opened the card, and the clever trompe l’oeil image of Che Guevara was revealed. Then I read the injunction “Let’s start a resolution”, which came with a handy fold-out strip on which to write goals for the new year, and then pin them to the wall as a reminder.

I reflected for a moment on possible resolutions for 2015, but then my thoughts turned to the one resolution I’d really like some brands to make. This new year’s resolution is to stop wasting their customers’ time. They’re doing so currently by outsourcing work to their customers to save money.

At first sight this looks like smart economics as the company can reduce its own resources by trading on other people's. But in this time-pressured society there’s a growing realisation that time is money, and this economic trade-off is no longer an issue just for a business elite, but is becoming meaningful for everyone.

Here’s a recent example. I ordered a fridge via Amazon from a supplier who in turn outsourced the delivery. Due to exceptionally bad traffic they were unable to fulfil the half-day time slot I’d been allocated, but only told me later that night. We rearranged another time slot and I waited in all morning to no avail. The fridge eventually arrived an hour late at around 2pm with no mobile phone call from the driver which could have freed me up.

Here’s how the maths look. About 74 per cent of the UK population over 16 are in employment, so a high proportion of a brand’s customers have got day jobs. If the current average salary is £26,500 and there are 260 working days per year, then the average hourly rate is £12.74. So if the delivery company wasted two half days of my time by messing up logistics and failing to communicate effectively, then at the average hourly rate of £12.74 they’ve cost me at least £100 for delivering a fridge that only cost £160!

I asked the 23redders to provide me with any examples of time-wasting to add to mine, and there were quite a few – clearly I’m not alone…

  1. “A big irritation is the very annoying e-mail 'marketer' who requires you to enter your e-mail address in order to unsubscribe from their spam. Now some are asking you to copy and paste a special code into an unsubscribe box, which is virtually impossible to do on a mobile and wastes more time.”

  2. “When I want to talk to someone at my bank, I have to enter all my details/passwords into my phone before someone comes onto the line. Only to then be asked the same questions again…”

  3. “A thing that gets me going is restaurants which get your order wrong, even when it’s really simple, and keep you waiting. Just today I was given the wrong salad – how can you get it wrong when I’ve handed them the pot from the chiller?!”

  4. “How often they issue upgrades to their software, and the amount of times you have to accept their T&Cs.”

  5. “One thing that really gets on my wick is when organisations offer an automatic repeat subscription to their service. They make it easy for you to organise but punish you for loyalty by charging a higher price than if you did it off your own back, which takes longer of course.”

  6. “My mobile company nearly drove me mad the other day. I had a very high bill on my new contract and tried to contact them by phone – you know how long it takes to get through despite your call being so very valuable to them! So I went on their web chat and half an hour later I’d lost the will to live. Maybe I should know this but after a text has got long enough it becomes a message and you get charged a stupid amount for each one. Tried to cancel my contract but I was outside the time limit. Then they gave me a free upgrade to keep me – good, but bad.”

  7. “I would like all the brands that I buy something from to stop asking me to rate my experience – it’s really demanding! I just want to get my stuff, I don’t want to then talk about it! Especially when there is no notion of what my feedback will go to help/change/support.”

  8. “Mom died recently and there needs to be a tax return so I wrote to her two banks. One provided the certificates of interest paid by return – great service. The other wrote back with condolences, saying they wanted to be as helpful as possible, then asked for a copy of the will before they would provide the information. On phoning their Bereavement Team I was told they couldn’t accept a PDF by e-mail for security reasons and a hard copy would have to be provided by post. So all their Libor and Forex rigging was documented on paper too?”

  9. “My gas supplier is a pain. You have to have a home phone number to get through to customer services – it takes four times of them asking for a home phone number, the automated voice telling you that you’ve not inputted a number to then get put through to a human.”

  10. “Finding that half the check-in desks are unmanned and having to wait for 40 minutes. Then queuing half an hour for security where lots of conveyors aren’t operating. Of course that still leaves you over an hour to spend money in the giant all-singing shopping mall attached to their inefficient airport before your 15-minute walk to the gate.”

In 2015 brands need to take another look at the total financial structure of their service to customers, taking into account both their, and their customers’ costs, and ensuring that where people are picking up the tab it represents good value. Too many brands aren’t doing this and it would be a great new year’s resolution if they were to re-examine their processes to remove these annoyances.

Let’s hear about your experiences of brand behaviour #23RES, and meanwhile my new year’s resolution is to vote with my wallet and walk away from time-and-money-wasting brands.

Hamish Pringle is a strategic advisor to 23red. Follow him on Twitter @HamishPringle

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