Technology vs. Customer Service

By Kathryn Magura

Forget the whole chicken vs. egg dilemma. The conundrum I face on a daily basis is balancing the conveniences technology provides with customer service standards that cannot be sustained.

What do I mean? Well, in my work we provide a lot of technological ways for students to connect with each other, our office, and request services. I love finding new and innovative ways to utilize technology to enhance the customer service on a college campus. In fact, that very sentence used to play a prominent role in my Twitter bio.

But what are the consequences for providing so many ways to utilize technology for customer service? A challenge I have found on a frequent basis is managing expectations when technology allows for the perception that things can be done with ease. For example, we allow new students to select their own rooms on campus – similar to how you select your seat on a plane. We have gone so far as to allow students to invite roommates into held rooms, and even change their selection multiple times. So what happens when our servers get overloaded with requests due to high volume of traffic? We get calls of complaints on how terrible our product is. I think the juxtaposition of customer service via technology follows a statistical bell curve of when the technology provided enhances the services provided, and when they are a detriment to it.

I also see this playing out in unrealistic expectations of response messages. I have had students email me at 8pm at night and then have a parent call me frustrated at 8am the next morning due to lack of response. How is it reasonable to think a request after standard business hours will or even should be addressed so quickly if it is not an emergency? I’ve seen this scenario get so bad for some colleagues that they feel the need to put an out of office message up from Friday at 5pm until Monday at 8am.

So how do we find the balance? An approach I take is through conversation. When our servers are overloaded and our product becomes slow, I explain to frustrated customers what is happening and why, and then I make a plan for improvement in the future. When someone is frustrated with the lack of response, I try to educate what a typical work shift is, and what our standard expectation of response is. Thankfully this seems to diffuse the situation in most cases. I also start asking the question of if the service that is currently providing more of a challenge than supplement to quality service is necessary. Do we need to provide this fancy and shiny technology piece if it ends up making our customers unhappy?

How do you find balance?

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Technology vs. Customer Service

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