Photo by Andrii Komarnitskyi on Unsplash

I’m a home automation junkie. I have set my outside lights to come on at dusk and turn off at dawn–and they adjust with the seasons. I can control my heating and air conditioning when away from home using an app on my phone. My robotic vacuum keeps things tidy. My sprinkler system uses the weather forecast to decide if it should run, and for how long.

I’ve come to rely on all these conveniences. And while they operate as expected nearly all the time, that’s still not all the time. They’ve all had one type of failure or another, and that recently occurred with my sprinkler system.

I woke up and noticed the sidewalk and patio weren’t wet. I opened the sprinkler’s phone app and it wouldn’t display the recent history, nor allow me to manually start a watering cycle. Something was wrong. It being summer (with some hot days forecasted over the coming week), my priority at that moment was to get the sprinklers back online.

Trying the self-service route

I began by visiting the product’s customer service website. My first thought was something was wrong with the sprinkler controller, so I decided to see what the suggested fixes were. The website only offered a knowledge base for self-service; while there were email and telephone support options, I thought I would try to fix this myself first.

I searched the knowledge base for the steps to reset the controller. The first advice was to simply disconnect it from power and restart, so I did that–no luck. The next suggestion was to perform a “soft reset” which was also not successful. It was time to contact customer service directly.

Holding for voicemail

I found the customer service telephone number and called. After a few minutes on hold, I was directed to a voicemail box. I was not interested in leaving a voicemail–I wanted to speak with someone now to get this resolved–so I hung up, waited a few minutes, and called back. After another few minutes on hold, I was connected with a customer service agent.

I proceeded to explain my issue and all the steps I had tried so far. The agent patiently listened, then shared that the cloud-based system the sprinkler system connected to was experiencing an outage and that I wasn’t the first person to call about this. When I pressed for an estimated repair time, he could not provide any information but assured me it would be fixed soon.

Grading the journey

If you were concerned about my lawn, the good news is the problem was resolved later in the day and watering has resumed. Up until this point, my experiences with this product and company had been great, but it was clear the company didn’t have a modern approach to customer service.

Lack of proactive service

As a customer, the company has my contact information including my email address. When this issue first occurred, the company had an opportunity to preemptively notify its customers of the outage. It missed its chance and instead forced customers to reach out for help and updates.

Minimal online customer service options

While the company’s knowledge base was thorough and easily searchable (even including some topics I intend to return to read), it was the only option. There were no more contemporary options like a chatbot, for example.

On top of that, most cloud-based services offer a service status indicator: online/normal, service degraded/slow, or offline/outage. Lacking that option, the company had not even put a temporary message on the website alerting customers to the outage.

Disconnected systems and processes

The customer service agent I spoke with had no insight into the current status of the outage. While he knew engineers were working on it, he couldn’t offer an idea of when service would be restored. In addition, his advice was to “just keep trying” to run my sprinklers instead of calling back because it was not possible to simply email me that the system had resumed operation.

“You’re not the first to report this…”

I would suspect given the hold time I experienced and the first comment from the customer service agent, their contact center was encountering a spike in call volume. How useful might a recording have been that played during while on hold about the outage?

The (whole) experience matters

My sprinkler system is an amazing piece of technology. It adjusts watering time-based on the weather. If I’m modifying sprinkler run time, I can easily start and stop the sprinklers from the app (as well as adjust other settings) instead of pushing buttons on the controller itself. When I tell people about it, most are impressed and consider getting one for themselves.

Don’t be like this company. Look for opportunities to deliver proactive service–alert affected customers to problems and available solutions– especially when a significant problem occurs, to diminish both customer frustration and the burden it can create on customer service. When that’s not possible, minimize customer frustration with helpful on-hold messages and website alerts. Connect customer service with other departments so agents have greater visibility into issues and can better-set customers’ expectations when a solution is coming. Any product or service–cloud-based or otherwise–holds the potential for delivering a great customer experience and that experience shouldn’t stop at when problems occur.