November 10, 2004

Listening to Invisible Customers

When you offer your service in the physical world, the world of atoms, as Negroponte would have it - say in an investment management firm, the point of customer-company interaction at which the business gets done is almost always a human being. The same goes for stores, supermarkets, car dealerships, banks etc as well.

This equation however changes significantly in the world of bytes. If you are a web based business for example, say an online store, you must accept the fact that your company has invisible customers. The user interface of your website replaces the human being and therefore radically changes the dynamics of how information is exchanged between your customer and your company.

This is wonderful in many ways, primarily because the amount and quality of information that can now be offered multiplies manifold. However, grave fallout of this mode of exchange for the customer is that the quality of interaction suffers dramatically.

Where was once a dialogue is now replaced largely by a monologue. This however isn’t inherent in the nature of the medium, because the internet offers unparalleled potential for interaction and it’s even being realised in many ways. However, it is rarely seen in business to consumer or more appropriately consumer to business area.

In their language, companies continue to offer unrecognisable, buzz heavy business-like fluff to their consumers on corporate websites. In design, online stores have a long way to go before an average website makes its users feel that there's a human behind the interface.

But more importantly, by explicitly discouraging customer interaction, it’s the strategy that companies pursue which causes the most harm. In his latest essay, The High Price of Not Listening Bruce Tognazinni talks about how that strategy leads to angry customers, lost business and damaged reputation.

Tog quotes at length, a letter by a particularly irate customer of Apple from Canada. Failing to contact Apple after several attempts, the customer sent the letter to Tog in hope that it would be forwarded to Steve Jobs to whom it is addressed. The letter calls to attention a glaring but easily correctable mistake in the Mac OS X.
You urgently need to fix a couple of problems with the OS 10 registration process on computers shipped to Canada. First, the population of Canada, except for one province, DOES NOT SPEAK FRENCH!!! Repeat, we do not speak French. Why do all Macintosh computers shipped to Canada, year after year after year, default to French? FIX THIS!!!

Stop shipping computers to Canada which default to a French keyboard layout, and GIVE NO HINT that selecting Canadian CSA (whatever that is) instead of US, will permanently lock you into a French keyboard layout.
(...)
There are three Canadian options in the International System Preference [...] All three are French. Why is there no Canadian English option? Why are there three French options? HELLO!!!
(...)
It is like having all US Macintoshes default to Spanish because 10 percent of the US population speaks Spanish.

In an earlier post I talked about how easily user feedback can turn out to be an empowering tool for customers and an inexpensive and useful one for companies. Treating customers with respect as human beings instead of mere statistic. From page Views to People.

1 Comments so far      

Anonymous Abhijit Sukul:

I just went through this website of a book called www.theicecreammaker.com
I feel this book is surely going to add some new dimension to listening to customer . The Ice Cream Maker has been written by world-renowned quality expert Mr. Subir Chowdhury. The main character of the book, Pete is a manager of an ice cream factory and he's having a tough time there with low sales and other problems. With the help of a mentor, how he fights back by listening to customers, that has been depicted in the book. It is going to be released worldwide on 4th October 2005.

13 September 2005 at 15:07:00 GMT+5:30 link  

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