Don't complain, critique

It's not often that I write a letter to the CEO of a company to provide insight to my experience with their organization. In fact, it takes quite a bit to get me off of my, shall we say, "correspondance" ass. However, the stars aligned and I was compelled to send out a two page analysis about my experience in trying to do international banking with Citigroup. In January of this year, Angela and I moved to Chicago for my graduate program. We'd been living and working in Sydney for the last three years and wanted to keep our money in Australia, as the interest rates are quite favourable and the dollar is, to put it frankly, tanking. I had looked into banks that offered international banking, and Citibank seemed perfect. Key to our needs was the fact that bank-to-bank transfers between countries would not incur any fees.

It didn't go well at all and in the end I had to close our account. Due to system problems in Citibank Australia, We had no ability to move any of our funds outside of the country. I spent weeks working with their customer service group to no avail. The problem basically came down to the fact that their phone system had trouble calling my cell phone (we don't have a land line at home). Because of this, their security process couldn't work. It didn't matter that I could call them on the phone, verify it was me through their security screening, and that I could transfer money anywhere in Australia. Since their automated system couldn't call my cell phone, I was not allowed to access my money. A dire set of circumstances indeed.

Now, as much as I like to bitch about bad customer experience, that's not my point here. As a designer, I know what it is like to work on both sides of this issue. I know the limitations that the customer service representatives are under. I know the archaic computer systems that banks work within. I know that the ability to "do the right thing" is the last thing large companies enable their staff to do. So why write a letter?

To be honest, because I was pretty sure the CEO didn't know what was going on right under his nose.

I had a really bad customer experience, but I tried to help them make it better. I tried to anticipate problems and resolve them for their group. I really wanted to figure it out and not have to move my money to another Australian bank, this time from far outside the country. But I was stopped at every juncture by the bureaucracy. So Citibank, already in trouble financially, lost another customer who was fighting to remain on board. I can't even imagine how many leave and don't say a word. And that's why I wrote the letter. How are we to expect the companies that we rely on and use to improve where it matters if they don't know what the issue is? Sure, they get a lot of calls, letters, and now more and more, emails, extolling the grievances endured by their unfortunate customers. But how many are from the point of view of a designer analysing the problem?

It great to vote with your wallet and move your business elsewhere, but that's not always possible - especially with industries like utilities (don't get me started on ComEd in Chicago). There may be only one game in town so you don't have a choice. So the customer has to participate in the dialogue to if they want to help improve the companies they use as well. If the company doesn't progress, so be it. They likely won't be around long. But if you are able to make a dent in the decision making at the top of an organization by helping them to realize that the product they offer is often the experience, you may help them and yourself at the same time.

I am an evangelist for great user experience, mostly because I don't think it is actually that hard to do or enable. Unfortunately, the process that makes something efficient often disregards user experience - both internal and external to a company. And companies are expert at trying to make things efficient. We've endured several decades now of MBA management that was built on a promise of cost savings and risk assessment, all while sacrificing innovation, product and service experience. It's time to turn things around and make it not just necessary, but fashionable, to consider the people who are touched by a company's wares.

As an addendum, I don't think Citigroup is long for this world after reading the response I received from the head of Citigroup's customer service. He was very apologetic that it had gone poorly for me - and then proceeded to tell me that it was my fault for not using the service as it was designed. I really don't think the guy had a clue at the irony of the whole thing. I never received a reply from the CEO, but at least I tried...