Balancing People and Technology

This holiday season has been an interesting one for shopping. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’ve been quite surprised by some of the exceptionally pleasant, cheerful and helpful people I’ve connected with in stores. It’s been a shift from many other holiday seasons that were filled with grumpy employees and team members who clearly weren’t happy to be where they were or dealing in the holiday spirit. In the past couple of days I’ve connected with a few more helpful and cheerful team members who helped alleviate some issues and move things forward in different areas for me. I don’t think we should ever remove humans completely from business, I think they play an essential role that can’t be fully replaced by technology. Having people in business also is a good reminder for us that at the other end of every transaction is a human as well.

As a business consultant and coach I always advise my clients to provide as much online information as possible. There’s no way we’re going to go back to the way things were two decades ago and not be dependent on the internet and online world (unless a serious event happens that makes it impossible for us to of course). So if you want to succeed in business, provide your customers a great experience and resolve as many issues or questions as easily as possible, it’s essential to have detailed, up-to-date information easily find-able online. I’m amazed most days when I go online and do different things how easy it is to do or find out without talking with anyone, spending tons of money, or going way out of my way. You’re able to back up a show you’re watching by a few minutes if you missed something. You’re able to do returns and get customer service with just a few clicks at any time, day or night. We’re able to work just about anywhere at any time. All of this makes our lives easier, more productive, and gives us the freedom to do the things that only we can do, when we need to do them. I’m thankful for all that the internet allows us to do as customers and business owners.

However, I’ve also had some serious challenges over the past week that have shined a negative light on some brands too, both when it comes to people and technology/online information. In a couple of cases, there was a shocking lack of information or heads up that would have alleviated many hours of frustration and circling to try to resolve things. It costs a negligible amount to customize an email with the relevant information, to deliver an email on the day it should be delivered, to provide helpful how-to’s on the website that aren’t going to change regardless of a device or location or person, or to provide a number or email or support line that could connect you directly with a business location. These are things that could have helped along some or all of these things and would have avoided frustration for a number of people including myself and the employees I eventually spoke and worked with.

Many companies have come a long way with finding the right balance between real people employees and technology, but we still have a ways to go to make it all work as it could, and there’s no question that you have to have both excellent online and person-based customer service. What has your holiday season so far revealed about your customer service capabilities and issues? There’s no shame in admitting that you’ve got issues or that things are a work in progress, it becomes a problem when you don’t address the issues, or don’t accept that there are any issues in the first place. There’s still quite a bit of shopping and working to be done before the end of the year, so address the biggest issues now and make a list of what needs to be addressed and can wait until January. Don’t let poor online or in-person customer support be the reason you don’t succeed as a business.

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