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Director of Customer Avoidance
by Mark Smith

I was in a meeting recently and one of the attendees dropped out at the last minute, not an interesting occurrence I admit, until someone asked what his job title was and the reply came ‘oh he’s in Customer Avoidance’! Now it would be unfair to name the company, who employ the best part of 20,000 people and have millions of customers – and have a very large high street presence. But here’s the thing – the job title, whilst a small jest by his colleagues, is actually really rather intriguing. Here’s why…..

Customers who buy a product, especially online, start by sharing their contact details and parting with their cash. The business takes the cash, then has a myriad of systems that chug along delivering everything from the receipt to the delivery, from the allocation of people, to the ordering of parts, from the provisioning of related services to the market researchers who want to know how it all went. Literally hundreds of people will have a (albeit Trump sized) tiny hand in fulfilling the customer’s every desire.

Trouble is most of these systems don’t talk to each other, so the very person who the company wants to put at the centre of everything – the poor old customer – is often the least informed about what the hell is going on.

So back to the mythical Director of Customer Avoidance. Actually, that should be a thing, after the customer has purchased the product they should never have to pick up the phone, boot up the e-mail, tap out an SMS etc – because the company should automate communication all the way through the process of fulfilment. The ‘avoidance’ being having to make contact because the systems have failed, which to be brutally honest is why customer contact often happens.

Let’s take a mythical customer journey that I have never experienced before. I bought my son a new car recently. The car wasn’t even built as I signed the contract. I expect it began its journey down the track somewhere in Germany (actually I think it was in Spain but who knows?), just as the paint was drying - I imagine in my mind’s eye - a transport machine of superb Teutonic efficiency lifts said car onto a truck, off a truck, onto a boat, off a boat, onto a truck and off a truck and into a showroom.

Why was I the last to know when it was ready? Why did Adam the sales guy have to call me to tell me to pick it up? Why on earth were the systems so inefficient that they can’t let me know what is happening? Why can’t I be sent a photo of the car as it’s being made? Why can’t I see the journey it is taking across Europe? Why can’t I be reminded of the things I need to do like insurance and rubber mats (they never come with rubber mats – why do they never come with rubber mats??).

Well the thing is that the world is changing, the mythical perfect customer journey is already here. We’re delivering better and smarter comms for all sorts of businesses and slowly but surely companies are realising that all the money spent on CRM systems and the people that drive them are actually intermediate technology – yes of course you need a ‘single customer record’ – starting with my data, checked and added by me. But all that is then needed are systems to talk to systems and to fire out well timed, personalised communication that keeps me in the loop. Machines do this better than people – I don’t need a human waking me up at 6am – my phone does that, I don’t need a human reminding me of a meeting and who is attending, my phone does that. And guess what, I don’t need a call centre ringing me to tell me things and I especially don’t want to have to pick up the phone to make a call – ’cause the only time I do that is when I’m already livid because the systems didn’t tell me what they actually already know. Once my entry is made all my later behaviours – can be automatically recorded against my entry and communication personalised still further, and if the service has a cessation event – a contract ends say, then offers can be programmatically made which stop the customer leaving to another service.

So I’m adopting a new job title – I’m the Customer Avoidance Tzar – not because I want to avoid customers, but quite the reverse. I want the customer journey to be so perfect that they never have to speak – because the answers have already been given.

The implications of this approach are quite profound, maybe if you get it right you never have to talk to your customers again – rather you can focus on giving brilliant services for them to consume, and offers that make them happy – and all this without having to mess about with expensive CRM systems and the even more expensive call centres. Instead you can take that saving and make your service or product cheaper or invest in making it better and better. Naturally… that’s what we do!

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