Ever wondered how easy it is for customers to deal with your business?

I’ll tell you the story of an interesting experience I had the other evening. A young man rang my doorbell, offering me a cheaper deal on my home phone.

Being polite and knowledgeable, he was easy to listen to as he explained how his telephone company could save me money.

I brought out a current phone bill and we compared the charges side by side. His firm’s charges were cheaper. In addition, his firm offered me two free cordless phone handsets.

He then explained that there was a ten day cooling-off period: at any time over the next ten days, I could ring his company and tell them I had changed my mind.

I decided to give them a chance. I’d take him up on his offer now and do some checking over the next couple of days.

That was when the fun started.

First, he had to ask for something solid to write on. I brought him a clipboard. He then spent a couple of minutes filling out a form. He then filled in another form. Both forms required identical data.

Picture this: we’re standing outside on my front verandah. It’s dark, the sensor light we have installed near the door keeps flickering off, and it’s about ten degrees. So far this has taken about ten minutes.

Then he asked if he could use my phone to call a verification service.

Whilst he was waiting on hold for five minutes, he filled out a third form that contained the same information as the first two. By this time, my data had been triple-handled.

When someone from the verification line answered, he gave them every piece of data from the first two forms. That made four times my data had been handled.

The person on the verification line asked to speak to me, going through every piece of data to ensure he had entered it correctly. That was the fifth time my data had been handled.

Finally he received a verification code and hung up. That concluded our transaction for the evening (taking around 25 minutes). He left me with copies of the first two forms.

Later, I spent some time comparing charges. I discovered the loyalty discount I get from my current provider makes my total charges lower, even though the new firm has lower rates.

So I decided to call and cancel the transfer.

First, I had to find a phone number buried amidst the small print on one of the forms. I rang the number at 10am, only to find it was a number for making enquiries about direct mail. I was confused, but persevered.

When I got through, a young lady told me (politely) that the call centre I wanted was in Perth, and was only just opening (10am in Melbourne is 8am in Perth). I asked her for the number and decided to call them later.

At 12:30 I rang the new number. The young lady I spoke to there told me that she only “had my lead data from around ten months ago”. Not only was this confusing, it also made me wonder how they had got my data. She told me I had to ring a call centre specific to a local authorised reseller. She wasn’t sure which reseller had been responsible for my case, so she gave me all three numbers.

One of the reseller names she gave me sounded familiar. I found it on one of the forms I’d been left with, so I called them. I was greeted with a recorded message saying “Welcome to Firm XYZ. Please leave your name, number, and the state you’re calling from and one of our sales consultants will call you back within one business day”.

At 6:30 that evening I received a return call from a gruff young man who asked me “you wanted something about the service you ordered on the 31st of July?” I told him I wanted to cancel it. He replied with “All right, that’s done.”

If I imagine myself in the telecommunications company’s shoes, I can see the putative value in some of this. However, when it comes down to it, my data was handled five separate times, then I had to make a series of three phone calls just to cancel the agreement. I ended up feeling like I was working for them.

Even if we have spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars building a better offer we still need to ask: “am I making it easy for my customers to do business with me?”

Because if we’re not, many of them will simply give up rather than beat a path to our door, even if we have built a better mousetrap.