The bland leading the bland

Maybe technology has a role to play in helping customers find out what a solution can really deliver argues Nick Booth

Here’s some market intelligence that will shock you - unless you’re a mother of chatbot invention like Sutherland. In which case, the world is your oyster.

The shock news is that hardly any IT service employees can explain what they actually do. If true, it could mean barely anyone in IT has a clue what’s going on.

The study, The Bland Leading the Bland, conducted by me and lasting 15 years, has concluded that people who work for a ‘solutions provider’ are rarely able to name a single problem their company solves.

I know this for a fact, having edited two channel magazines and written for MicroScope for a decade and a half. In that time I sat through endless roundtables, briefings and informal chats. In addition, I’ve received an estimated bezillion press releases and made endless inquiries to companies and their PR representatives.

I can confidently assert that only about three or four people, in all that time, have ever given any thought to their claim to be a solutions provider. If you provide business solutions, ergo you are solving problems. So it’s not unreasonable to ask what problems you solve. And yet people are stunned when you ask this question. 

I’m always baffled by this because it should be an easy question to answer. People only buy technology for one of two reasons. They either want to get more work done or to make their admin less expensive - it’s the top line (higher output) or the bottom line (lower outgoings.)

Which, in both cases, is about money. I made the mistake of describing this as ‘the money shot’ in one briefing, not realising that it has another meaning.

So your technology saves the client money by solving business problems, such as making storage more efficient. Or avoiding security-related downtime. Or helping you make more sales by weeding out the time wasters.

Not exactly rocket science is it?

And yet, every single time you ask a company representative what they do, as a solutions provider, I guarantee you they won’t have a simple answer. It should be a no brainer, but it’s often a no can do. It will be elevated and takes days to get an answer. Which will invariably leave you none the wiser.

So, IT resellers and service providers have a problem with articulacy.

Customer experience experts at Sutherland have the solution to this problem: ChatBots. They’re created them for Sony and a variety of health service clients in the US. Sophia Warwick from Sutherland gives very direct common sense answers, even though she has the words Solutions Architect in her job title.

Who’d have thought it? Not me. I always thought Chatbots are the devil’s work. They are limited by the imagination of the IT man who wrote them and, as we have come to learn, those horizons can be very limited indeed.

But as Sutherland Europe MD Sonia Sedler explains, the industry is much more people centric now and they are channeling the top talents from customer service to design the modern customer experience chatbots.

“We always ask people what the problem is first, and shape everything around that,” says Sedler. Humans will never lose their jobs to Chatbots because nobody could ever recreate the ingenuity of the creative woman or man who has great listening skills and empathises with the customer, says Sedler. Mind you, those sort of people are as rare as hen’s teeth in the IT industry.

A chatbot is only ever going to be as good as the person who mentors it, says Sedler. Many chatbots will reflect the personalities people who created them. You don’t have to be massively technical at all, you just have to know how people think in a particular situation and anticipate what sort of questions they will ask, and the hidden meanings behind some questions. You have to be able to spot the question they are really trying to ask.

If you are fanatical about shopping and have worked in the retail business for years, for example, you are the perfect person to create a customer service chatbot who can guide people through the process of buying. Same goes for the health service.

So, people who are good communicators, are blessed with natural empathy and very particular about the service they are given will make great data scientists and could be the mothers of invention.

Where do you find sympathetic people like that though?

“With a chatbot you never have to feel bad about asking a stupid question,” says Warwick.

This is a strategy Britain’s IT channel should adopt. If you ask them what problem they solve, they look at you as if you are one of those fools that they don’t like to suffer gladly. But asking what problem you are solving, as Warwick and Sedler have shown, should be the top priority.

This was last published in May 2018

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