Automated services should support, not replace staff, says Gary Waylett. Old-fashioned service should prevail.
Automated business processes have been touted as a panacea for improving customer service and reducing costs. But has customer service improved? And what about the customers' perceptions of the business?
Automation has a clear role to play in service and support functions. For example in IT, customers can download software upgrades from a website as long as they have the appropriate password. The support desk is automatically notified when that download has occurred, enabling IT staff to follow it up.
An automated knowledge base of common problems and resolutions can also be useful. However, its role must be to aid helpdesk staff to resolve more calls first time, by combining the experience of staff with knowledge base information. If end-users simply have to trawl through an automated knowledge base without that added expertise from the helpdesk, a speedy a resolution will not generally result.
By breaking the direct contact between user and support desk, the organisation runs the risk of losing touch with its user base - and losing the confidence of users. Head count can probably be reduced and skill levels can be more appropriately targeted - and it is possible that statistics could demonstrate improved service levels - but at what cost to customer satisfaction levels?
Customers need a choice. Although a knowledge base may appeal to the IT expert, most finance departments, for example, are run by people who view IT simply as a tool. They are unlikely to enjoy trying the 20 options offered by the knowledge base to answer a specific error code.
The danger of under-performing software damaging morale and productivity is well known - to add the need to self diagnose and repair seems a recipe for customer dissatisfaction.
Old-fashioned service should prevail when supporting complex products that are critical to the business. Do provide training course information online, but do not compromise the relationship with the end-user. An invisible customer is not necessarily a happy one.
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Gary Waylett is managing director of Eclipse Computing