We live in an age of enormous digital disruption. The internet is an invention that continues to revolutionise our lives in ways we are barely conscious of. And the best is almost certainly yet to come.
This newly minted capability for us to connect to everything 24 hours a day is creating new services and demands.
Companies are now leveraging the web to enhance the customer experience while reducing costs. You can order pizza from your mobile phone, and anyone buying an airline ticket can’t beat the convenience of comparing airlines and prices, cutting out the middle men.
The advent of the web and its interconnectedness is unequivocally good and there’s no going back.
But all that begins to unravel for us when we have a problem. That’s the point when we need a human being who understands us, to listen to our problem and solve it for us. That’s the point when we are discouraged by picking up the phone to call a company’s automated messaging system, and instead visit their website to solve the problem ourselves.
Large international corporations, particularly in the digital world, have made a conscious decision to be unavailable for human interaction. They have decided that an FAQ page will solve 90% of issues. For the rest, it’s more cost effective to fail a small group of customers than to put in place a hugely expensive customer service division that will add significantly to the cost of the service.
This makes sense for large repetitive services such as telecommunications or home computing. But where our service is more bespoke, more individualised, and less repetitive, the case for web-based interaction is harder to justify; particularly where the customer has a problem. From a business standpoint, human interaction with someone who is empowered to help is a compelling way to build customer loyalty and a reputation for excellent customer service.
Digital service company representatives will tell you that everything can be done over the web; that you can communicate with your subordinates and customers remotely. Enterprising and agile firms will explore every opportunity to exploit the potential of the web, but at the cost and limitation of other core business essentials.
And the limits are emerging more and more. Yahoo has recently stopped its employees working from home, claiming that engagement with staff and productivity are up since the change. Companies with large customer service divisions are finding that allowing employees to work from home does a lot for assisting employees with the pressures of life, but reduces team productivity. Many businesses are finding that they must have a website, but it doesn’t generate many sales. It’s there mainly to reassure customers about the professionalism of the service and provide them with information.
It’s when a customer has a problem that the role of the human being has yet to be surpassed. That’s the time when you as a business have the greatest opportunity to learn about your own service from the customer’s point of view. Dealing directly with customer service problems is the most valuable feedback on a business possible — an area that delivers tangible, measurable performance improvement.
Having a good reputation is an invaluable asset for any company, and despite its potential the web can’t solve every problem. Ordering a pizza online is a fantastic convenience; but if they deliver the wrong one, it’s nice to be able to call them and sort it out.