DIGITAL FAILURE DEMAND – The hidden cost of poor design


A few years ago, I ran a Customer Insight exercise into a major bank’s Digital Rollout programme. Counterintuitively, I didn’t interrogate the new Digital systems for information on take-up and throughput. Instead, I asked Call Handlers to gather data from the phone calls they received. What I wanted to know was WHY customers were calling us when they had a Digital option available.

We broke the responses down into a number of themes…..

“I don’t use digital because I don’t understand/trust/like it”

“I didn’t know it was available”

“I tried but it didn’t work”

“I looked online but it’s not there”

…and so on.

Each of these responses tells us something about our customers’ experiences. They also gave us real insight into the causes on ongoing telephony DEMAND. And this raised an interesting question. Just how do we categorise and understand the impact of this kind of DEMAND?


The concept of VALUE and FAILURE DEMAND is increasingly well known, although frequently misunderstood. Its evolution, largely driven by John Seddon at Vanguard, was an attempt to break away from the outdated theory that demand was simply work to be done and you resourced with that in mind. Instead, demand was broken down into VALUE; things that a customer WANTS to do; and FAILURE; demand driven in by the organisation’s failure to do something, do it right, or do it in a timely manner. By identifying the amount of failure demand – generally anywhere between 30-60% in a typical service-oriented business – we have a real opportunity to tackle its causes.

However, in the case of DIGITAL DEMAND, this quite often began as a VALUE activity, such as opening an account, or changing personal details. How do we define this now it has fallen into the telephony channel? This is when I came up with the concept of DIGITAL FAILURE DEMAND. If a customer wants to apply for a loan, but is unable to complete the journey online, we have lost the resource benefit to the business of a digital option. And now we have to process the application over the phone with a customer who has already experienced a service failure.


Now, one of the challenges of gathering demand data is there aren’t any neat data crunching packages out there to categorise VALUE and FAILURE; even advanced speech analytics systems struggle with this concept. Instead, it often involves a lot of call listening, or handlers scribbling down notes on data forms – an approach fraught with inconsistency and impact on call handling times. So, I partnered with Insight Now and we developed a CALL TAGGING solution. This was a user-friendly GUI that Call Handlers could populate using a series of dropdowns and only a couple of additional questions to the caller. It added just five seconds to each call and we only had to implement it in a small proportion of teams as it massively increased the amount of calls we could analyse (over 75,000 in less than three months).


What did all this information tell us? Well, quite a lot actually!

The data showed that dissatisfaction with the use of card readers (“I’ve lost it”, “The battery’s dead”, “I left it at home”) drove a significant volume of calls and accelerated the bank’s decision to move to a Soft Token app solution.

Transaction queries also proved to be a major call driver, leading to a solution focused on providing Digital users with richer transaction details. Overall benefits from DIGITAL FAILURE DEMAND reduction totalled £840,000.

A further £140,000 of benefit was realised through identifying medium volume, high complexity failure demand, and developing solutions. For example, one in three statement requests resulted in DIGITAL FAILURE DEMAND calls, due to failed delivery. Technical and procedural changes to the process completely removed the cause of addressing errors, reducing associated call volumes by more than 20%

In short, we could understand the success, or otherwise, of our Digital services and identify the causes of FAILURE demand with minimal impact on the call handling of the operations teams. Given that the primary goals of Digital solutions are to provide the customer with better options and flexibility while reducing the costs of ‘doing the work’ in the business, why wouldn’t you want this kind of insight? Do you currently understand your DIGITAL FAILURE DEMAND?

If you want to understand just what we can do to drive customer-centric Digital design based on deep insights, then contact us at

We will partner with you from inception through to ‘business as usual’ to ensure you have the right solutions for you and your customers.

Andrew McIlroy

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