I was recently at the Technology Services World (TSW) Conference in Las Vegas, organized by the Technology Services Industry Association. For the first time, there may be help on the way for people who, like me, experience technology as a giant frustration.
Every big technology firm seemed to be at the conference, except Apple. Apple may be afraid that competitors will figure out their secrets if they show up, but it seems to me they follow a pretty simple recipe that goes something like this: Let customers choose how they establish contact with Apple people, either physically through stores, or through any other means of their choosing (Internet, community, call center). Either way, encourage them to come. If you help customers figure out how to use the stuff they’ve bought from you, they’ll become better at it. As they learn, they’ll buy new software and new hardware. They’ll upgrade their machines faster. They’ll become loyal to your brand. They’ll sell other people on the merits of your machine. And you’ll get very wealthy.
All other companies have historically been on the opposite track, following a logic that goes something like: We hope you won’t contact us because you cost us money every time you do. So we’ll set up an obstacle course that protects our people through fragmented Internet sites, semantic moats, and tech-speak land mines. If you survive this, our Customer Service will be waiting to convince you that you’re no longer under warranty and get you to agree to pay for a service you’re not yet sure you need, or cross-sell you a more advanced version of the application you don’t understand, which is why you called in the first place. Along the way, you may get to visit with Henry in Hyderabad, Martin in Manila, or Lenny in Lesotho. As the experience becomes worse, customers buy less and less, managers cut more and more cost, and the company turns into a bleaching carcass in the desert of technology.
The Apple system starts with experience – the customer’s and the Apple employee’s experience. It then allows them to develop their own interaction in the store, through the phone, or on the website. Each interaction is co-created; the customer brings her problem, and the employee figures out with the customer how to weave a unique interaction between them to solve the issue. The issue is not even characterized as training, support, warranty management, or anything else until the conversation starts. There is no typology of issue, no segmentation of customers, no preordained process or metric constraining them.
For all other companies, everything starts with the process and the operational scorecard associated with that process. The conversation is about First Call Resolution – where resolution is defined as “If you haven’t called back to complain, we must somehow have solved your problem” – Average Handle Time – how long it took for the agent to get rid of you without hurting your feelings too openly – and Customer Satisfaction – where you are deemed to be happy if you reluctantly whisper “yes” to the agent’s throwaway question at the end inquiring whether your call was better than a root canal.
But things may be changing. At the TSW conference, I saw some senior executives begin to take responsibility for the customer experience produced by technology companies. Denise Rundle, who is Microsoft’s Vice President in charge of the Consumer Service and Support experience, went as far as to say she’s come to realize that having all her indicators be green on her operational scorecard fell quite short of offering a good customer experience. (Full disclosure: I am a consultant to Microsoft through my relationship with PRTM and shared a keynote presentation with Denise at TSW.) She even challenged other members of the PC ecosystem to come and join her in jointly constructing the future PC experience as an ecosystem. For the first time, I saw a high-level technology executive talk about the issue from the perspective of her own experience: wanting to be proud of what she does. And people responded. When she came down from the stage, many people were waiting for her, wanting to sign up in her ecosystem army.
It is a bit early to figure out this will go and whether the PC experience will one day be as much fun as Apple’s. But at least someone cares enough to get going. That, in itself, is the beginning of redemption.