The new buzz word for online these days is called Intelligent Self Service. Online communities, chatbots augmented with AI or not. You are constantly being served by organizations which have been designed so that you can help yourself before you get in touch with a real person.
Before Corona, I was attending a real event in a which a bank was presenting how they had this 'banking nirvana' to have zero human contact with her customers. I was given the opportunity to ask that very question: “What is your desired # of human interaction points?” and the young man proudly and convinced of the direction mentioned: “Zero. We strive for zero human interaction!”
While I actually do my banking at this bank, this story has been bugging me ever since.
I grew up in a fish shop. There! My parents sold fish. Back then, fish was a poor mans solution to meat. No customers, no money. The cash register would stay empty. It was a simple and hard life that started from the WWII rubble.
The single most important reason for customers to come to our shop back then was to talk to my parents. A trusted relationship with many returning every week. Seeing the fish being cut and getting the service and quality they were after. And of course my dad always talked endlessly while we waited for him to start our dinner. So I grew up with “having a conversation with a customer” as the most important element in a business relation. It was stamped into my DNA and for quite some time I dismissed the whole idea of striving for “zero human interaction”.
Fast forward in the Corona age and I admit that I hardly leave my house anymore to buy a product. I know what I want, I search for the product and select the supplier that has the best value. Even the most obscure products from Aliexpress I buy without thinking. When I do go to a shop, I am so spoiled of always finding it online, and almost never in the shop, that my shopping endeavors end up in a disappointment. Buying a product has become a commodity for most of my time. Going to the city center for clothing or shoes is such an ordeal. Just the sheer agony of having to dodge the “female shopping spree stampede” makes me want to stay away. With the advent of Amazon’s blimp deploying delivery drones, buying has become a “total logistical experience of a moving good to an endpoint where humans may live that have approved a payment”. In this world, intelligent self service makes sense. 60-70% of all communities at least start like this. They prevent cases from coming in. Delivery at scale.
We all know Steve. He was 56 when he passed away in 2011. Yes, Steve Jobs of Apple. Steve would have an opinion on this topic for sure. Steve understood what a customer wanted and needed. Steve managed to create such a bond that people sat for days in front of his store to buy his outrageously expensive products. Steve innovated and some claim since he died that did not happen anymore with Apple.
I cannot erase my DNA. Having a conversation with a customer is at the heart of your survival. I’m with Steve here even when refusing to buy his outrageously expensive products.
If buying products has largely become a commodity and you want to stay in business, you have to innovate and both, find and deliver more value. Either on your own or with partners in an ecosystem. For that, you need to have a meaningful and valuable conversation. Intelligent Self Service MUST be enhanced with Meaningful Interaction. Intelligent Self Service is for the chatter and the volume and Meaningful Interaction is for those contacts that will give you the information to create new value. Your community then becomes your pool for innovation. Commodity is always a race to the bottom. Trick is, how to you get people to spend their valuable time with you and tell you what you need to hear? If they spend a few valuable seconds with you, what is your story? Talk to us…we have an idea.