System Overload

In Inspiration and Motivation, Pursuit of Happiness on March 10, 2010 at 8:23 am

When I started my journey in the pursuit of health, wealth and “happyness,” my intention was to remain as positive as possible in all situations.  Sometimes, however, the only positive to come out of a situation is learning how to avoid mistakes that others are making.  The mistakes that I am referring to are business-related, not personal.  What people do with their personal lives, (as long as it doesn’t have an impact on my family or me), is their own business.

Lately I’ve been dealing with some big companies whose business practices leave a lot to be desired.  It is truly shocking that – in today’s economy – some companies actually make it difficult to give them business, due in large part to their archaic systems.  Other companies that supposedly exist as a platform to allow people to connect to one another (for both business and personal use) have created seemingly arbitrary rules to block people from doing just that.  In my opinion, it has gotten to the point where companies that do the “right thing,” and simply meet expectations are seen as extraordinary.

It seems to me that technology has allowed us to move one step forward while taking two steps backwards, particularly when it comes to customer relations.  Domestic customer service representatives with the capacity to think and feel have been replaced by automated systems and outsourced customer service representatives who can’t go “off script” because they barely speak English.  Even those companies that have not outsourced their customer service representatives have made it difficult (and time-consuming) to reach a human being.  How often do we find ourselves yelling voice prompts into the phone because the automated system didn’t understand our response?

As frustrating as the companies are that make it difficult to speak to an actual person, there are also companies that seem to operate with no phone lines whatsoever.  It would be one thing if these were small start-ups, but the companies that I’m referring to are so ubiquitous that they are often mentioned in day-to-day conversation, television shows and movies.  Of course, I am referring to Facebook and Twitter…two companies whose only customer service is online, and even then, it is done mostly by autoresponse, and FAQ links to answers provided by other users.

Facebook frustration is nothing new.  They are constantly changing the layout and functionality of the site, much to the dismay of the community-at-large.  It seems that these changes usually happen just as Facebook users get comfortable with the previous change.  When the most recent change happened, I compared Facebook to a sadist who randomly rearranges the furniture in a blind person’s house.  While I understand why Facebook does not want to put customer service people in place to handle objections to layout changes, I cannot understand why there is no mechanism in place to help people when their profile becomes unavailable for no apparent reason.  I guess the answer is…because they can do whatever they want, and no one ever seems to leave.

After resisting Twitter for a long time, I finally started to use it recently for a new business venture that I am working on.  Like Facebook, Twitter also seems to have arbitrary rules that restrict the ability of people to connect to one another.  Pretty ironic considering the fact that Twitter solely exists as a conduit to connect people for either personal or business purposes.  I only started using Twitter for business purposes, as I find it too limiting to socialize with friends in a meaningful way.  However, Twitter does appeal to me as a business tool.  I just wish that they didn’t make rules that create stumbling blocks for no apparent reason.

Case in point…

I received a direct message yesterday from someone that is interested in my new venture.  When I hit the “reply” link, I was allowed to type a 140-character response.  However, when I tried to send my response, I was denied because the person that sent me the inquiry was not one of my followers.  How are people supposed to connect if they have to connect first before they are allowed to have a 2-way communication?  This makes no sense to me!

After doing some research, I was able to find a phone number for the person that contacted me.  When we spoke on the phone, I let him know that I tried to respond on Twitter, but it wouldn’t let me because he wasn’t following me.  He told me that he would have followed me, but he had already reached his limit of 2000, and couldn’t follow any more people until he had more people following him.  Pardon the pun, but I have a hard time “following” Twitter’s logic on this rule.

As I said in the beginning of this post, I have found a positive in all of this insanity.  I know what it is like to be a disgruntled, frustrated consumer.  I see simple solutions to the problems that have been created by our increasingly automated society, and I plan on using them in my business ventures.  Ironically, providing outstanding customer service has very little to do with technology.  Quite the contrary!  While technology can be helpful in managing customer relations, the best way to connect with customers (while creating loyalty) is to be there for them.

It may sound crazy, but my plan to succeed with my new venture is to do more talking and less typing.  I will use systems for management purposes, but I will not use systems that alienate my customers.  Amazingly, my “old school” approach to customer relations may very well be the biggest point of differentiation between my competitors and me.  Time will tell, but I think that this plan just might be crazy enough to work!

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