2010-08-16: Back to Talk to the Hand, Lynne Truss' book about the rudeness of modern life, and she's talking about the Internet where she makes the point that many businesses have pushed self service too far.
Given that most transactions are mutually beneficial, wouldn't it be nice one day to be met halfway? The Internet, she says is "the supreme example of an impersonal and inflexible system which will provide information if you do all the hard work of searching for it, but crucially a) doesn't promise anything as a reward for all the effort, b) will never engage in dialogue, c) is much bigger than you are, and d) only exists in a virtual kind of way so never has to apologise."
She continues: "Our spirits are .. half broken. We have even started to believe that clicking "OK" is an act of free will, while 'Quit' and 'Retry' represent true philosophical alternatives. Fuming resentment is the result. Everywhere we turn for a bit of help we are politely instructed to find the solution for ourselves."
Now, she writes very effectively for comic effect but I do take her main point and have felt the same way many times.
So the reason for me putting this up is to say that we can get too wrapped up in how brilliant the latest widget is and forget that most of everyone just wants a bit of straightforward human interaction. Service is a differentiator. If that's how people feel about your website and your competitors', that's fine to a point. But you could blow away your competitors with some decent customer service, and get yourself a long-term, loyal customer base.
Incidentally, this ties in with something I picked out of an episode of Big Brother last night. The show is in its last couple of weeks and two different people said at different times of different people that they didn't trust them. The reason? They haven't got to know them as much as the other people.
Remember our old brain and the idea of the self? The old brain is interested in sex, food and danger, and our concept of a sense of self may just be an evolved by-product of our need to understand what the other guy is about to do. We meet someone or something, and we model them in our head. We try to understand, basically, whether they are going to try to eat us, have sex with us, or help us. The fact that we are modelling others means we may as well model ourselves too so we can work out the whole situation, and that model of ourselves is our sense of self.
Anyway, what they were saying in Big Brother is that they didn't trust someone basically because they hadn't had enough interaction with them to build a reliable model of them in their heads. So they couldn't yet predict how they would behave.
Brands are simple people. They're not complicated. Volvo will always prioritise safety and Mercedes engineering. Easy to predict.
But in order to trust a brand (a company) and to buy from it, we need some interactions.
So you could turn frustrated customers into thankful, trusting and loyal ones with some half-decent interactions.
Now, I know that face to face or phone interactions with real people are awfully expensive. You need nice, capable, chipper and well trained people to face customers who ask the same disheartening questions day after day.
Enter social media. If a customer asks you a question on Twitter or Facebook or a forum or in a YouTube comment or on your real-life FAQ and you answer it, others see that you really do react well and answer questions properly and solve people's problems. That stands in for their own questions, their own interactions. Now instead of needing, say, 9 brand interactions involving your staff, say half of those are covered by the prospect seeing your interactions with others in social media.
"Pick your own strawberries" "No I won't bloody pick my own strawberries!"