Wednesday 1 August 2007

Online customer service failure

The good news is that the saga is almost over, and I am finally back online. :-) Last night, I accidentally discovered I had broadband; this morning I found the online bill for my first month of service (I use this term loosely) had arrived... looks like another call to the phone company to ask some questions about strange charges.

Anyway, one of the observations during my time of being disconnected from the fast world web was our reliance again on the telephone for accessing and managing the different services that run our lives. The impact of not having any or decent Internet access was magnified by the time spent on hold.

Of course, this doesn't mean the whole online customer service experience is all rosy either. Shortly before losing phone and Internet access I needed to organise the disconnection of another utility. Going online I found an electronic form that I could complete to request disconnection. But I then discovered that if I submitted the request online it would take up to 20 working days to complete - alternatively I had the choice of ringing a call centre if I needed disconnecting more quickly.

The funny thing is that requesting disconnection from the call centre required them to email me a form, that I then completed by hand and faxed back. The disconnection was then confirmed by someone who phoned me back and the actual disconnection was completed in 5 working days. The charge for quick offline service was no different from the slow online service. Is it just me, or is there something seriously wrong with this picture?

A few years ago now I actually wrote a short piece for a local business e-zine about the importance of empowering customers with self-service - see Empower customers with self-service, not automation. But there are two sides to the self-service equation - one that I've covered is empowerment, the other is control. Over at Anecdote, Shawn points to a post by Dan Lockton on the architecture of control:

"Architectures of Control are features designed into things which intentionally attempt to restrict or enforce certain behaviour on the part of the users. The most prevalent examples are DRM and other attempts to control how users can interact with software and data, but similar thinking (in different degrees) is evident in many aspects of the built environment - such as anti-loiter and anti-homeless benches - and in product design in general. The term architectures of control is used by Lawrence Lessig in the seminal Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, although the basic idea has been expressed in a number of fields by many different people."

I wonder, was the online disconnection form simply a rationing or filtering mechanism? When you think about it that really is a terrible way to treat customers - that is, if you need something urgently then it will cost you your time.

On the other hand are they simply treating online customers here in Australia badly because they are the minority - Ross Dawson points to research for his Future of Media Report 2007 that links broadband speed to low participation in social media here in Australia. Perhaps its not just social media that is affected, but e-business as a whole?

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