I was at a carnival night at my oldest son’s elementary school last week and while standing around making small talk, one of the parents proffered that age-old question (that I often dread!): “So, Kit, what do you do?” Since I work in the IVR industry, I had to fight back the tendency to say something smarmy such as magician or astronaut, partly because it’s more fun to be one of those things and partly, I must confess, because I am a little bit ashamed of my industry’s reputation. I know, sacrilege, right? But I said it out loud and as I did, I realized something—this must be what Harry Potter feels like when he says Voldemort and makes everyone around him cringe. Very liberating indeed!
Now that I have not only pointed out the white elephant in the room, but have shined a floodlight on it, we can move on to the more important issue. How do we fix it? I learned a long time ago that it is extremely easy to point out the problems and flaws in any situation. The real challenge isn’t in being critical, but rather in taking the road less traveled and finding a solution. And while I don’t have a magic bullet, per se, what I do have are three cardinal principles that I apply when talking to customers about self-service. One is mine, one is borrowed, and one is flat-out stolen, but I make no apologies. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
Is it Better Than Human?
This should be obvious, but I find that, more often than not, it isn’t. It seems many companies apply the “It’s better than nothing!” theory. With every project you consider, just apply this test: is it better than a human experience? Or, put another way, is it better than waiting on a human? When I call my airline, I am thankful that it knows who I am and that it tells me immediately my flight status, getting me off the phone in under 30 seconds! There is no way I could get through to an agent, even with no hold, provide them with the necessary information, and get my flight info faster. That is a perfect example of better than human. On the other hand, the other day I called my bank to transfer funds from my account to an external account. The system tried dutifully to guide me through the process, and I finally completed the transaction (10 minutes later!). Oh, how I longed for a rotary phone I could slam when I was finished! Really!
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
I must confess, I am a gadget guy. I love my toys and I love technology just for the sake of technology. However, I am constantly reminded—most often by my wife—that technology can at times just get in the way. I have a graveyard of gadgets to prove it. What I have learned from this is a simple fact: sometimes new technology is just a solution looking for a problem! Companies get so excited by the prospect of being innovators that they push technology out and just put it in the way of the consumer.
Let me give you an example. I was working with a client recently and they were asking if customers could use our technology to take an insurance application completely over the phone. We started getting into the details and it turned out the application is 30 questions long and covers four—yes, four—legal-size pages with questions, terms, and conditions. So they asked me point-blank, “Can we do it?” To which I was forced to answer, “Sure, but should we do it?” I got a few puzzled looks no doubt, but I began to explain the user experience and how truly miserable it would be. Luckily the voice of reason won and they decided that it might not be the best use for this case. Score one for the good guys!
Beside the Door
Huh? What the heck does that mean? Well, this is the one I am going to claim as my own, even though the concept is stolen. IVR’s cousin, the ATM, has found a niche in which it can prosper. I often talk about how self-service, when done right, can become preferred, and what better example than the ATM? The follow-up question is always, “So why has the ATM been successful, when the IVR has been so despised?” It’s simple: where is the ATM installed? Is it in front of the door? Of course not—can you imagine?
Picture this: You decide to go to your local bank to talk to them about, let’s say, a car loan. You walk up to where the door used to be and you find an ATM instead. You stare quizzically at the box and walk to the side to peek in one of the windows. You see a bunch of bankers sitting idly at their desks with looks of boredom engulfing the entire scene, but you find no way in. You knock on the window and they just look up and point helplessly at the ATM—I mean, door. You go up and put in your card only to be assaulted with screen after screen of endless questions. Finally, after you have worn a callous on your finger, there is a loud “woosh” and the ATM opens to let you in. (Think Get Smart intro—and, no, not the one with Steve Carell.)
What I described is basically what companies do to their customers on a daily basis, over the phone. It seems almost comical to think of this scenario in terms of a bank’s ATM. The banks got it right by putting the thing Beside the Door. It’s that simple!
The next time you are thinking about self-service, feel free to steal these ideas and concepts—I don’t care. Just use them! We all deserve a better experience and an improved reputation.
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