Customer experience, self service and the wrong type of apologies

Barclays self service machines

Here’s a story from a recent visit to the local branch of my bank to pay in a cheque. Remember them? Cheques, that is.

Anyway, it’s a while since I’ve visited the bank and on entering I noticed that they have gone through a bit of a refurbishment. This has meant that they have removed almost all of the counters and replaced them with a suite of self service machines.

Not sure what to do next, I decided to join the queue for the one cashier that I did spot.

What was interesting was that the self-service queue lined up alongside the cashier queue so I had a great view of what was happening with the new self-service machines.

Whilst I was queuing for the cashier, the self-service queue got longer and longer with many customers complaining abut the lack of service and the absence of people to help speed up the process. This was exacerbated by the fact that one out of three machines was also out of order.

However, the thing that stood out for me was seeing two customers in succession – and these customers were neither old nor lacking in tech savviness – struggle to decipher, use and complete their business that day on the self service machines.

Moreover, they struggled so much and took so long that they felt compelled, once they had wrestled the self-service gorilla to the ground, to turn around and apologise to the other queuing customers for the impact their own long and arduous customer experience had had on others that were queuing.

Now, if customers feel that they have to apologise to other customers for their customer experience then that’s a problem. Isn’t it?

I understand that the introduction of new technology usually comes with a degree of pain or teething problems and that will include a period of time to educate customers in new ways of doing business. I get that.

But, knowing that there will be teething problems, I guess the real question is who should bear the pain of those teething problems:

  • The business, through the cost of additional people to help customers get used to new technology or new ways of doing business; or
  • Customers, through increased frustration, irritation and time spent?




Note: Over the course of this year I’m going to start experimenting with some shorter form blog posts alongside longer(ish) ones and my regular interviews. These will tend to be ideas and observations that don’t make into the longer form for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve not been clever enough to figure out how the idea or observation develops into a longer form lesson or post; OR
  2. I think the idea/observation is worth sharing and can stand alone.


5 comments On Customer experience, self service and the wrong type of apologies

  • Adrian,

    You know something’s amiss when customers are apologizing for the company…

    The bank could have avoided much of this hassle by some simple, preemptive communications with its customers. Most banks have set their clients up with email notifications, and they most certainly know where you live. A letter, email, phone call explaining the upcoming changes would have prepared its customers.

    I can even imagine the institution spinning the changes into a positive PR campaign. What a loss!

    Oh, and I certainly remember cheques 🙂

    Mickie Kennedy
    eReleases Press Releases

    • Hi Mickie,
      Thanks for your comment and thoughts.

      I guess that the bank could have done more around communication. However, quick question: do you open all….. I mean every piece of communication that you receive from your bank? Do you skip the ones that look like direct mail? I suspect a large percentage of people do not see or open everything that gets sent to them.

      I’d rather have seen a bit of real understanding from the bank and less assuming that their comms or tech would work and that they were willing to invest in having more people at the point of interaction/potential problems at least through an intro phase.


  • Adrian, I think sometimes our rush for cost efficiency is not well placed.

    And on the topic of shorter posts, it seems to work for Seth Godin

    • Indeed, James.

      Always been a problem that you can capitalise IT and tech projects and investments but you can’t capitalise human service.


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