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Your website visit is(n’t) very important to us – please continue to hold

Your website visit is(n’t) very important to us – please continue to hold

It is only a matter of time before a word is invented to describe the very particular kind of rage induced by a customer support call comprising five minutes on hold, three transfers between departments, a failed attempt by the system to automatically process your request through key strokes and an unsatisfactory conversation with a call operative for whom English isn’t a first language.  The only way that experience could be made worse is if they teased you whilst holding with the lie “your call is very important to us, please continue to hold.”

What kind of monster would create such an experience?

A monster sitting in a Board Room valuing rows and columns in a spreadsheet above customers, that’s who.  For the sake of convenience let’s call him Excel–zilla.

Excel–zilla has spent his entire life in the finance department and has never once spoken to a real–life customer.  He hears about them from the commercial people in the organisation but doesn’t like the sound of them.  He views serving them very definitely as a cost to the business, a somewhat inconvenient side effect of taking money from them.

Before we get too righteous about Excel–zilla, we do well to remind ourselves that he has a number of first cousins, monsters who create that same customer experience in the online world.

Let’s call these three ugly sisters Feature–obsession–zilla, Technology–focus–zilla and Pretty–pictures–zilla.

These monsters create websites where it take the user five minutes to accomplish what should be done in thirty seconds, where she needs to visit lots of different places before finding what she wants, where the content and vocabulary of the site is so organisationally–focused that it sounds like a second language, and where ultimately the disillusioned user picks up the phone or goes to a competitor.

Russell Davies is Director of Strategy at Government Digital Services (GDS) and possesses a clinically insightful, straight–talking, irreverent understanding of his customers that has facilitated a programme of extraordinary digital transformation in the provision of UK public services online.  Asked recently how his users felt about the excellent online service provides them with, he responded bluntly yet accurately “Hopefully most of our users don’t think about or notice us. They just use the service and get on with their lives.”

His response drips with accuracy, empathy and emotional intelligence and suggests total alignment between user intention and design direction.

Pertinently, he goes on to make it clear that for organisations to get close to their digital potential, they need to kill the Zillas, 

“When an organisation has digitally transformed, marketing teams will have less budget, influence and power. If that’s not the case, then you haven’t done the digital transformation right.  The product or service team in a properly digital company will have all the budget, influence and power.”

Users are much too smart to interpret the online equivalent of “your call is very important to us, please continue to hold” as anything other than “your website visit and your time aren’t important to us, in fact we haven’t made any effort to consider either, please continue to invest your time and emotional energy to get what you are looking for while our Zillas obsess on features, focus on technology pursue pretty–pictures.”

For those who don’t take their online customer experience seriously enough, Davies makes it clear what the future looks like “Digital transformation is inevitable, either your business will do it, or you will be replaced by another business that has digitally transformed already.”

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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