OK, it’s out there – my position on most forms of self service is that they are gruesome, unpleasant events and by definition heartless and emotionless.
I know: you’re thinking, the guy doesn’t post for two months and this is his comeback opener? First – I have been caught up in the CRM Customer Service Contact Center Magic Quadrant research. The results will be published in about two weeks. Aside from absorbing a lot of time throughout the year, the MQ requires hundreds of phone calls and surveys with end users of products to vet what I think I know from speaking with prospects of the systems, systems integrators, project managers, and the vendors themselves throughout the year.
Well, why the ‘duh level’ comment about self service? Probably because I have travelled to eight cities on three continents in six weeks, and richly enjoyed the human interaction with cab drivers, waiters, concierges, event managers, and receptionists along the way. Most of them really do try their very best, every day, despite less-than-terrific wages. They provide a smile, or an insight on a city, or advice on a restaurant or where to buy eye drops or where to stay. They fix up your room, worry about your safety, usher you to conference rooms and serve your meals.
Try that on, self service. Yes, kiosks are ok. Online billing is super. Purchasing commodity stuff is wonderful online. But the insider view, the care, the supporting laugh, or the haughty ‘I know better – I live here!’ is all absent. No pulse. No ability to react to a follow on question. No nuance or subtelty.
I know I set the bar for self service too high. Samuel Johnson would say to accept the limits of self service. But he’d say it like this: “Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.” Self service systems cannot act like humans, and not by a long-shot. Voice response phone systems and website search and knowledge management of documents and intelligent web agents are puny substitutes.
My bottom line? Let’s be modest in our ambitions, and modest in our declarations about customer self service. Carbon-based life forms trump silicon for service, and we need to remember that when we pull out the human element. Humans should be somewhere in the wings to help when self service systems fail.