How SARS can improve their customer experience to make people happier

Customer experience (CX) is about the customer. It’s funny how often we forget this. It’s the point at which the customer interacts with the system. It’s the language used, it’s how easily a customer is able to learn to use a system and backtrack if they have made a mistake. It’s all this and more. CX is incredibly important because it will inform how people think and feel about your brand, product or service.

No one likes doing tax returns. It involves numbers and money, money which is no longer yours. Last week I had a rather shocking experience while dealing with SARS. I wanted to get ahead of the tax season and decided to register for e-filing. After filling in the forms the system informed me that I had to fax my personal documents to SARS.

As per instruction, I waited for my account to be activated but this never happened. I dialed into the SARS live chat facility to find out what the problem was. An agent dialed in and managed to be both insulting and demeaning in his interaction with me. He told me that I had not used the system correctly and that I had missed important information, which was in the footer of the page! This is the opposite to what customer centered design advocates.

Steve Jobs says it best:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology – Not the other way around”

SARS queues are longer than the road to enlightenment….

There were three lines outside of SARS. I gambled and stood in the second line, as it was the shortest. After about 20 minutes in the line, a SARS employee told me I was in the wrong line. I was currently in the middle of the second line but had to move to the back of the first line.

Inside I was directed to another line. Told to sit down behind 70 or so people, I was given a card with the number 153 on it. I sat waiting for my number to be called, wondering how long I would have to wait. I had to get back to work but I didn’t want to leave if it wouldn’t take too long.

Finally, after about an hour it was my turn. The person in the cubicle I was directed to did not make eye contact once. She seemed visibly annoyed at my request, as apparently I was in the wrong line. When refusing to join another line, she grudgingly helped me. Her refusal to help me, even though she was fully capable of doing so left me astonished. She completed my request, before I left I asked her if people complain about the queuing system. People did complain – in-fact they often complained. She explained that; “SARS has all the power here, so people have to wait to be helped”.

I was at SARS for 2 hours that day. 2 hours I had to take off work –  2 hours which could have been shortened by considering the experience from the customer’s point of view. Inefficiency effects everyone, especially the poor. Taking the whole day off is a large cost for people who are already struggling. I’m not trying to blame individuals, I’m merely thinking about how to create an environment where both SARS employee and everyday person can have a better experience.

Customer journey maps help visualise problems

Here is a customer journey map – a visual representation of my experience with SARS. It shows the emotional journey people experience. We use them at Deloitte Digital to help clients understand just what their customers go through.

Customer journey map – SARS


The issues highlighted in this piece are not insurmountable – they can be solved through better communication, considered managing of expectations, and improved guidance for customers.

SARS could focus on:

  • helping  people understand which forms they need when trying to register for e-filing;
  • tell people which lines they need to stand in.
  • allow people to upload documents for e-filing.

Improving processes make people happier, which make for more successful businesses.