All posts from: December 2009
In this age of digital communications and social networks, we’re forever hearing about how technology is allowing companies to keep in touch with their customers. What we don’t tend to hear so much talk about is how technology has helped them avoid their customers.
After all, a big part of the success of many internet companies lies in the fact that if you operate online, you don’t have to have staff in shops or call centres. This works fine a lot of the time, but as soon as a customer has a query that’s outside of the usual realm of experience and which requires intervention by a sentient being with a brain and mouth and hands, they find themselves in a terrible maze of FAQs, links marked ‘Help’ which go miles out of their way to not provide help, and links marked ‘Contact us’ which lead to pages containing not a single option that approximates to ‘contacting’ anybody. This is the reality of a lot of ‘customer relations’, if it can be called that, and it ain’t pretty.
Clive James was ranting about this on BBC radio the other day. He spoke about being asked by a machine in the BBC accounts department for his VAT registration certificate every year for the past seven years. There is no reasoning with the machine. Then he has a go at automated phone systems, saying: “Getting in touch with any large organisation by phone has got harder and harder as the system of getting in touch has purportedly been made more efficient, by the provision of ‘options’.”
So let’s not get carried away with how technology and the internet have revolutionised the way companies relate to people. It works both ways.
The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker has written a rather enjoyable rant about ads featuring what he terms ‘loser-generated content’.
The ads he talks about are really less about crowdsourcing and co-creation than the appearance of crowdsourcing and co-creation, which can be just as artificial as doing things the old-fashioned way. Which goes to show that there’s still plenty of maturing to do in this area. Presumably once the idea of ordinary people getting involved in this sort of thing is less shiny and new, we won’t see it presented quite so ostentatiously.