If you’ve ever had the experience of calling a service provider with an issue or problem that doesn’t quite fit into a category that the pre-recorded – and always banal – voice prompt recognizes, you’ll know all too well that the movie Terminator was right: we are at war with the machines and Skynet is winning.
And then there’s the flip side of minimal human interaction: the fast food drive-thru, for instance. We all have those days when, quite frankly, the fewer people we have to see or interact with, the better. The ability to pick up a meal without leaving the comfort of your car is awesome and saves you from having to stand in a queue listening to some idiot detailing the full intricacies their latest heartbreak while on the phone to their mother.
But what’s the answer online, be it from a marketing perspective or even just pure function? How much should we strive for ruthless, automated efficiency versus what some would call ‘old school customer service’?
By now, the broader digital industry is savvy enough to know that it’s important to tread carefully around the user experience. From a publisher perspective, most are very careful not to allow specific ad formats and invasive-rich media, creatives have to conform to specific rules and adhere to aggressive frequency capping. Why? Because we know users determine and contribute to the overall success of our business. Annoy the user and they’ll simply go elsewhere with their valuable page impressions from which publishers derive ad revenue.
But good housekeeping in the digital market extends beyond the user experience of retail or editorial sites; and as a broad church, the digital economy can sometimes be a little too in thrall to technology, forgetting it’s not the machines who award contracts or sign off invoices.
I’ll try to resist a shameless plug for my employer at this point, but we as a company have had an ‘AHA’ moment recently which I think has relevance to everyone involved in the digital economy.
We launched a new platform, essentially intended to be a one stop online shop for clients so that they could, with automated efficiency, request any of our services or plan any online campaign without having to leave their office. As you would expect the back end of the platform took a long time to develop with many hours of coding and the bending of machines to our will.
Then we turned our attention to the front end, or human interface if you like, and started to play with how we’d present our services. In the age of social media, it just didn’t feel right to launch a site that talked at customers. Sure, having a click-through to your blog, twitter account or facebook page is pretty standard these days, but in many instances that is still really only talking at your client base.
Through the process of debating what and how we wanted to shape our information offering, a presentation of services went out the window. Instead, through a collaborative process, we ended up creating a drop-in community centre of sorts, for our clients and potential clients. Using the tenants of social media, our team has visible profiles so people know who they’re interacting with beyond just a photo and job title. We created an area for sharing news, not press releases about how amazing we think we are, but real news that affects the wider global industry. Clients are able to interact, Twitter-style in real time, not only with us but also with each other. Likewise we have a community notice board of sorts, which we call our Occasions notice board where all members of the digital community can send us information to share regarding their upcoming events.
And yes, amongst all of that interaction advertising clients and agencies are able to easily access the business information they need to do their jobs.
And not one of us, client or service provider, needs to leave our respective offices. Now that’s not to say actual humans having face-to-face conversations isn’t important, because it is absolutely is. And I couldn’t do my job without it, but at the same time weaving our humanity, albeit virtually, into the tools of our trade while being a conduit for connecting people suddenly seems glaringly obvious.
I do find it rather amusing that the online economy, to be more efficient, has had to evolve to replicate one of the oldest human constructs: community. There’s a pretty powerful message in there to all of us who make our living by inventing new stuff for the machines to do.