Service Economy Lacks Service


Samuel Greengard

Self-service has morphed into no service.

In the mid '90s, when the Web went commercial, it was a remarkable new channel for providing information and helping customers. Now it seems like it has devolved into the primary channel--and sometimes the only channel--for too many organizations.

It's hardly a bulletin that companies want to avoid minimize customer contact with call centers. Budgets are tight and reps are under enormous pressure to complete transactions as quickly as possible. Alas, customer service is expensive and paying call center reps is a lot more costly than operating servers.

I'm not opposed to using websites and self-service. In many cases I prefer handling things myself. But I bristle at the concept of getting sloughed off to websites for everything. It's like the old IVR loop with no "0" option revisited. I repeatedly come across companies that don't even provide a customer service phone number at their site!

And if companies are a problem, government and colleges are far worse. There's little incentive for service at these organizations. I have a friend who's researching career opportunities and looking to go back to school. Every time she calls a college with a few questions she is referred to the website. It seems that nobody can take a minute or two to provide an answer.

Employees are getting hit with this too. The few remaining HR employees have become nothing more than human traffic pylons that direct callers to their website. Several friends have complained recently that they can no longer get answers to their questions by calling in and speaking to a person. Perhaps this is the real world fallout from the Google effect.

The problem is that you get information but not always answers at websites. Sometimes it's necessary to have a human available who can connect the dots and solve a problem. Otherwise, a task that should take 5 minutes winds up taking 3 or 6 hours. Of course, there's a cynical side of me that says that these organizations don't care. It's not their time or their problem.

In fact, a lot of organizations are so obsessed with cutting costs they've completely lost sight of the big picture. Worse, they're using the wrong metrics and measures to track results. You can hit all your metrics and still fail. I wonder if CEOs or other top executives ever test their own websites and businesses?

What a concept.

Previously: I want my travel agent!