Friday, August 31, 2007

Sevice on Internet Terms

Intriguing comments on my buckies post below suggest how deeply we're all thinking about the blurring of the boundaries between online and offline experiences. Erin's ideas about revolutionizing the time spent waiting in line calls attention to how intolerant we've become to any delay in service or gratification, an experience certainly enhanced by our broadband-speed shopping habits.

Paul S remarks about how virtual navigation--at first so disorienting--are now often better than the navigational elements (signage, etc) in our more familiar 3-D worlds.

I've definitely found myself subject to similar experiences of impatience and confusion when I'm untethered by a nice clean flow. When i was doing research for an online travel brand, I found that some consumers take the point even farther. I was asking experienced business travelers about their strategies for getting through the purgatory of the contemporary airport. I heard all kinds of things, from always wearing loafers to elaborate descriptions of choreographic transfers of ID and boarding pass from wallet to shirt pocket at various stages of the passage. But one of the most memorable remarks was a traveler who in response to a question about what she did to make airport travel easier, responded simply: "Never talk to a person."

We know what she means. At least those of us who hated begging the weary and harried airline rep to find us an aisle seat or look for an earlier flight. Don't most of us now prefer kiosk, which provides--at its best-- total access to the information.

It was the kiosk, in fact, which helped me define the principles of service on Internet terms.

I've found that even really sophisticated ecommerce businesses get tripped up when they start thinking about service; their impulse is to return back to the traditional definition of gold-standard of service, which is personal attention. In certain cases (e.g. medical care, luxury hotels) that may still be true. But when it comes to day to day transactions, many of us would prefer control and access to talking to a person with their all their flaws and limited information and crankiness. In any case, here was my working list on what service meant on internet terms:

Accessible 24/7
Hyper-relevant in terms of specific times, place, situation, product
Connected to as many venues as possible
Configurable/Customization: reorganize info the way you want it
And ideally Smart: Learns your preferences and improves through usage

This last element "smart"--in the old-fashioned sense of the term--is what we used to get from great service people. They'd actually get to know us and our interests to which they added their own depth of insight and experience, so that each interaction/transaction would be better than the one before.

But, of course, many of us didn't have that experience with travel agents or accountants. It wasn't worth the time or emotional energy, let alone the extra pro service fee, to actually get to know someone, so we did it online. And now we don't want to go back to the stupid service person for so-called service. Many of us now
prefer the smart machine.

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