Categories: Founder's Blog


Sam Bayer


HBR insights on customer service

Great blog post today over at Harvard Business Review entitled “Why Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You”.  Finally, some bona fide research that supports my long held belief that customer self-service is way more than just a leftover fad from the dot com era but is more of a cultural evolution that is now past its tipping point.

Here are a few of my favorite gems from Matt Dixon’s and Lara Ponomareff’s blog post and referenced HBR article: (emphasis is mine)

“…we’ve found that corporate leaders dramatically overestimate the extent to which their customers actually want to talk to them. In fact, on
average, companies tend to think their customers value live service more than twice as much as they value self service. But our data show that
customers today are statistically indifferent about this — they value self-service just as much as using the phone. And guess what? By and
large, this indifference holds regardless of their age, demographic, issue type, or urgency.”

It really just stands to reason, regardless of your industry, if people go home at night to Amazon, Netflix and Online Banking, when they come in to work in the morning, they bring those user expectations with them.  Someone is buying all of those smartphones and ipads and they aren’t just teenagers looking to post to Facebook!  I’ve written about this quite often in the past.

“This attitude toward self-service has been a long time coming. Two-thirds of the customers we surveyed told us that three to five years ago, they primarily used the phone for service interactions. Today, less than a third do, and the number is shrinking fast.

My 29 year old semi-luddite daughter recently shared her eureka moment about why she is making fewer phone calls than she ever has.  It has to do with the pressure of being engaged in a synchronous conversation.  She would much prefer not having to confront another human being in real time.  There is too much pressure to say the right thing and ask the right question and react appropriately.  Asynchronous media (texting, email, chats, websites) are much more to her liking because she can take her time thinking about her responses.  I told her all that was well and good for her business and friends, but that wasn’t getting her off the hook from speaking with me on the phone :-)

“…maybe customers are shifting toward self service because they don’t want a relationship with companies.”

All of the input we get from our interactions with our client’s customers is that they simply want to have the product they desire, shipped to them on time and at the agreed upon price.  They would much prefer not spending anytime on the phone with their suppliers, because if they did, it usually wasn’t to learn about new products but to resolve issues they have with existing orders…wrong product shipped, delivery times too long, etc. etc.

Which reminds me of growing up in NYC in the 60’s and 70’s.  My parents often took me to visit their cousins, Fanny and George in Brooklyn.  Fanny and George, and their two kids, did nothing but fight with each other during our entire stay.  My mother said that it only looked like they were fighting when in actuality they really loved each other.  My take on that?  If arguing like that defines a “relationship”, than I’d rather not have one.  Looks like my world view was prescient.

The most disturbing finding of the author’s research was this:

“We found that a staggering 57% of inbound calls come from customers who first attempted to resolve their issue on the company’s website. And over 30% of callers are on the company’s website at the same time that they are talking to a rep on the phone. That’s a lot of frustrated customers.”

The wrong conclusion to draw from this observation is that it’s better not to put up a web channel until you can get it perfect…because you never will.  Web channels are the best “checks” you have in the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle of continuous improvement.  Without a web channel, all those inbound phone calls are your “Checks” and “sticky notes on your CSR’s cubicles” are the results.  Having a web channel (or opening up your Kimono to your customers) will force you to “Act” more appropriately…clean up your business processes and make sure that SAP is configured appropriately and that your Master Data is accurate.

It’s a scary thing, but it’s the right thing for every business to commit to.

In the end, it’s best to reserve conversations with your customers to collaborating on new products and services and maybe even wishing them a happy birthday.  Let your SAP integrated web channel do the heavy lifting of transacting the day to day business with them.


P.S. – Drop me an email if you’d like a copy of the HBR article.  It really is a great read!

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