Everyday we’re making choices in the digital and physical worlds between one brand and another. Sometimes we choose a brand because they provide us with great service, but sometimes it’s simply because they provide adequate service and there isn’t really a better option. Mostly the choice of the interaction isn’t about great service at all; it’s about convenience. Generally speaking it’s not because of their products or their so-called services. It might be the way in which they connect me to certain products or services, but it isn’t generally what they produce.
Some days I’m incredulous at how some organizations manage to survive based on their apparent single-minded dedication to frustrating an efficient and productive service relationship. Other days, I’m amazed at myself for the ease with which I accept such maltreatment and why I don’t have the energy to turn around and leave. Often, it is because I don’t have a choice, there simply isn’t a better alternative. Sometimes it is because, defeated, I accept that my exiting investment in the relationship is sufficient a reason for why I should stay, knowing that I’m not going to generally fair much better elsewhere or I would need to incur costs to make a change.
Why most service businesses suck
Most service organizations might start off with good intentions, but over time they build processes that are designed to standardize or make the delivery of their services more efficient and cost effective. Somewhere in the process of defining the most efficient instance of a process, many organizations appear to forget why it is that they have a business in the first place, namely – the customers they serve.
The act of simply documenting a business process, scripting a flowchart or coding business objects, could in itself, be the very thing that destroys an organization’s ability to react to the needs of its customers. Granted, there must be order… but when the creation of order dehumanizes the participants, or kills off the ability to offer exceptional service, then in the end, the process itself is simply killing the opportunity. Over time, that process is burdened by more ‘rules’ or policies that not only disrupt service capability, but also reduce the cost effectiveness of the process too.
Sounds dramatic? Maybe I’ve been watching too many chick flicks lately. Maybe my inner self is crying out for something better. So here’s the thing…
Doesn’t the digital space itself do the very thing that I’m suggesting? Doesn’t an electronic interaction break the service opportunity into components of a database, an expert system, a user interface, a channel deployment, or a touch-point? So how is it that I, a glorious technophile and champion of all things digital, is suggesting that service requires humanization, heart and flexibility?
The digital connection
Well…it might just be feasible that what social media is really doing today is more than socializing the web. It might be possible that this drive towards great usability, human interaction design, multi-touch, augmented reality, geo-location and connectedness is actually creating a digital service platform that could revolutionize the ability of an organization to look after me as a customer.
Social media is about connections. I’m connected with my friends, my family, my business associates, my old school buddies, but I’m also potentially connected with those organizations I interact with day to day.
I’m using my “App” phone and my tablet to do my banking, check in on my flights, send messages to friends, play games (I call this downtime), watch a movie or read a book. My relationships in this space can be deep, emotional and powerful, such as when I see a picture of my kids on Facebook while I’m far away on a business trip. They can elicit a smile, such as when I see a funny status update, or even when I have a great, and really simple engagement with a service provider; like downloading a book on Kindle, starting to read it on my iPhone and the finding my place again later when I turn on my Galaxy Tab or iPad.
Building better relationships
The concept that you can’t build relationships in the digital space, that face-to-face or human interactions can consistently provide better service experiences, is simply an excuse not to expand your view of connections.
The digital landscape doesn’t destroy relationships, it doesn’t always replace physical either, but the multi-channel space can definitely enhance relationships between a brand and a customer.
When I anticipate your needs before you do and I present you with a simple, targeted and compelling journey – that is great service. When I show you can trust me because I don’t inundate you with irrelevant marketing campaign messages to your phone or inbox, but when I have something to tell you it really hits the mark – that is building a relationship. When I don’t treat you like an idiot by trying to convince you will have a smile from ear to ear if you simply change banks, airlines, brand of shampoo or which mobile carrier you are using – I’m showing you I can be honest, rather than believing you are naïve.
The art of interactive relationships is about building great journeys in a world of transparency, a world of increasing demand for service and simplicity, and where you don’t get points for branding, you get points for the ability to connect and deliver.
We can talk about PFM, personalization, direct marketing, behavioral economics, usability, interaction design, and other such buzz words incessantly, but ask yourself this…
Are your customer facing processes defining your organization’s ability to have a relationship with the customer, or are your thinking of new ways to enable relationships with customers every day?
Don’t tell me I have to do it your way because that is your process. Don’t tell me you haven’t deployed an iPhone App or you aren’t on Social Media yet because you don’t know where the ROI is.
Meet me in the middle. Try to understand me, and try to deliver what I need, when and how I need it. If you do that honestly and transparently, I will trust you with my commerce.
If you don’t – your just another brand using just another channel to try to get my spend. That’s not a great start to a relationship.
Finally, I’d like to thank my sponsors for this blog – the US Bureau of Citizen and Immigration (sic) “Services”, TSA, HSBC, Qantas, American, British Airways and United Airlines, countless hotel chains, and customs officials of many countries for their inspiration…