I am sweating as I write this. Not because I’m anxious or worried about getting it done. Because earlier this week — right in the middle of a heat warning — our air conditioner broke down. I am currently living through day three of sweltering at the keyboard.
This is relevant because, over the course of attempting to get it repaired, I came across an interesting example of a company trying to humanize the customer experience with the way it dispatches its field technicians.
The first company we called in was the one that we’ve been paying annually to maintain the unit. We were given a rough window over the phone in which someone was to arrive. When he did, the field tech just gestured to the company’s logo on his shirt and began asking what the problem was.
No real “Hello.” No, “My name is.” He could have been a robot.
This was not the only reason we decided to look elsewhere, but once we’d booked an appointment with a second company my wife got an interesting text.
It didn’t just confirm the appointment. It also featured a smiling head shot of the field tech who would be coming out. A short paragraph mentioned how long he has worked for the company and his expertise. It also mentioned he likes to play soccer in his spare time.
We sort of laughed about this, but when he arrived he was smiling. Just like in the picture. He seemed far more interested in our situation and more patient in explaining what our options are. I know absolutely nothing about soccer, but otherwise I might have been tempted to bring it up.
The novelty of that sort of text message could easily wear off, of course. Listing a customer service person’s outside interests might eventually seem rote or tacked-on. For now, though, it created a warm introduction and drove home the point we would be dealing with a person, not simply a field technician.
One of the interesting paradoxes of the pandemic is that while most of us have moved to videoconferencing for work, most customer service and support experiences seem to have remained confined to phone calls. Agents are still faceless — sometimes literally, when they are replaced by chatbots.
It’s certainly more difficult (at least for me) to rant and rage when I’m actually looking someone in the face. If I were told something more personal about them — that they had children, that they volunteered for a charity or that they play a musical instrument — the interaction might be even more humanized.
Social media has sometimes helped do this in other phases of the customer journey. It’s easy to look at the Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram profile of someone marketing or selling to us and get a deeper view into who they are. Perhaps customer service tools will be developed that make this easier to display somehow when interactions begin.
There might even be the possibility of creating an algorithm to match agents with certain attributes or values they share with a customer, as a way of building better rapport. It might require more data collection than either customers or agents are accustomed to, but there might be a willingness if it was proven to work.
For now, tactics like that text message are not a bad way to acknowledge the fact that even brief interactions between a customer and a band are really interactions between people.
Some might say they don’t care who it is, and that they just want their problem resolved. I get that. But companies are spending so much money and effort to use customer data to personalize the experience.
The data about their employees is much closer at hand. It’s not really a personalized experience unless there’s some way to convey the individuality of the person helping make the experience happen.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.