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The Death of Customer Service

TIME magazine is running a feature on "10 Ideas That Are Changing The World". Alongside some pretty big concepts around sustainability, "reverse radicalism", geoengineering, and the impact of ageing populations, they highlight the unstoppable rise of self-serve technology citing such joys as supermarket self-scanning and self-checkout, movie ticket kiosks, airport self-check-in and even ER check-in kiosks at hospitals (I kid you not). "Only now" they say, "are technology and public sentiment aligning to truly shift the responsibility of collecting goods and services to the consumer".

Ubiquitous self-service does two things:- it drives big savings for the companies which introduce it and it shifts the responsibility and work onto the consumer. Few initiatives deliver real macro savings in productivity. The efficency gain is far from always on the side of the consumer (how many times have you been frustrated by the inflexibility of machine-driven service?). "Business will get smarter about when to serve you" says Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR, one of the biggest providers of self-service systems. Maybe it will. It needs to. The point at which you interact with your customers and the experience they have is the most important form of marketing there is. There may well come a point at which increasing automation will invert into a corresponding increase in customer desire for the benefits of human service. Businesses which structure themselves around human interaction could find they have a real purple cow on their hands.

6 responses to “The Death of Customer Service”

  1. R N B Avatar
    R N B

    You are right, making the customer do the work has huge potential benefits in the form of reduced costs but it also needs to be allied to a better experience for the customer, typically in the form of faster service or wider choice. But I think successful web-based sales operations do this, they make buying quicker and easier than going to a store while also offering greater choice, often with a wide variety of subsidiary information also available online.
    Quoting just one counter-example, Ikea has made the sales process extremely customer focused, in that the customer has to do much more of the work than in a typical store. But the tortuous paths through the store make the sales process slower and the layouts discourage easy price comparisons of particular items, the visions are very narrowly defined.
    That’s not a popular view, Ikea is very successful, but I think it’s like the automated call centre in that making the customer do the work appears only to cut shopping cost and not to improve shopping process.
    http://ranaban.blogspot.com/2008/01/consumer-driven-sales-ikea-style.html

  2. R N B Avatar
    R N B

    You are right, making the customer do the work has huge potential benefits in the form of reduced costs but it also needs to be allied to a better experience for the customer, typically in the form of faster service or wider choice. But I think successful web-based sales operations do this, they make buying quicker and easier than going to a store while also offering greater choice, often with a wide variety of subsidiary information also available online.
    Quoting just one counter-example, Ikea has made the sales process extremely customer focused, in that the customer has to do much more of the work than in a typical store. But the tortuous paths through the store make the sales process slower and the layouts discourage easy price comparisons of particular items, the visions are very narrowly defined.
    That’s not a popular view, Ikea is very successful, but I think it’s like the automated call centre in that making the customer do the work appears only to cut shopping cost and not to improve shopping process.
    http://ranaban.blogspot.com/2008/01/consumer-driven-sales-ikea-style.html

  3. neilperkin Avatar
    neilperkin

    Yep, thanks RNB. I guess it’s poorly thought through automation which I’m having a go at here. Sadly, there seems to be too much of it around which is funny because you only have one chance to get that interaction right.

  4. neilperkin Avatar
    neilperkin

    Yep, thanks RNB. I guess it’s poorly thought through automation which I’m having a go at here. Sadly, there seems to be too much of it around which is funny because you only have one chance to get that interaction right.

  5. tracie Avatar
    tracie

    It seems to me that businesses don’t care about serving the customer. Businesses are born every minute as others disappear. Customer loyalty doesn’t seem to mean much anymore and as a result ‘customer service’ is nonexistent. I understand the concept of saving money and bottom line concerns but at what point do you recognize the customer as a contributor to your success and bottom line?
    Complacency has infiltrated so many aspects of our daily lives. I hate the phrase: ‘that’s just the way it is’.
    It doesn’t have to be, but we accept it thinking we have no choice.
    Great post!

  6. tracie Avatar
    tracie

    It seems to me that businesses don’t care about serving the customer. Businesses are born every minute as others disappear. Customer loyalty doesn’t seem to mean much anymore and as a result ‘customer service’ is nonexistent. I understand the concept of saving money and bottom line concerns but at what point do you recognize the customer as a contributor to your success and bottom line?
    Complacency has infiltrated so many aspects of our daily lives. I hate the phrase: ‘that’s just the way it is’.
    It doesn’t have to be, but we accept it thinking we have no choice.
    Great post!

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