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Automated system performance requires human engagement

4 December 2013 05:38 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Some emails or letters invite you to sign up and enjoy membership to this magazine or to that credit card. This just happened to me recently where my entire family received letters from our bank soliciting us to sign up for its prestige credit card that ‘gives double the benefits’. I am a client of this bank – which boasts ‘It is here to stay’ – and it already holds all relevant details not only about myself but also that of my spouse and son, as we all  carry this particular credit card.

Seriously, I would imagine that banks would have relevant data of their existing credit card holders and be professional when pursuing new applicants by avoiding replicating its marketing efforts to existing cardholders. This is a classic case where the active engagement of humans (staff) is non-existent, latent or not connected in system performance. Here’s another illustration of this.

Whilst overseas, I had an issue with another credit card company and called the card centre. The automatic system, after three levels of options, instructed me to put in my 16 digit card number, before passing me to a human being. When I got through, the first thing the agent asked me was my card number. These are global card companies! Doesn’t their senior management ever have to call their own contact centres?
Ah, here’s the secret – obviously not, or this would be fixed straight away! Incidentally, whenever I seek some clarification on my credit card by phone with my local bank, invariably, the questions posed to verify ‘caller authentication’ goes as follows: What is your date of birth? What is your mother’s maiden name? What is your card limit? The set of questions are so predictable that if you know which credit card your parents, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters use, it is not too difficult to find out how much money they are spending.




Pushing digital messaging over the edge
In today’s business environment, literally everything seems to be about technology. Five years ago, it seemed nothing was as buzzy and mysterious as ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. Today, ‘Content Marketing’ has taken over as the reigning buzz phrase in marketing circles. Then there is ‘Micro-blogging’ (which tempts me to text-message: “Thumbs are killing me”).

The transformation of the mobile phone, which has gone from serving single-task purposes to creating an engaging or dis-engaging and interactive experience, is another life-changing development. The mobile phone - including the smartphone or cell phone - is no longer a device used exclusively for phone conversations and sending brief text messages.

The mobile phone is now a playground for social media users, consumers and creative types. From email to Facebook and buying movie tickets, the mobile phone today can now be used to accomplish an array of business and personal-related matters. Soon we can expect smartphone technology to enable us live a healthier lifestyle through the use of mobile chips that can test urine samples.

Admittedly, whilst there is a whole lot of good, there are also the bad and certainly the ugly in all of this! Some companies have become over-systematized, as I call it, to the extent that everything and I mean everything, is left to automation. Consumer expectations for customer service have got so low that a company scores some points and perhaps is even viewed as having superior customer service, simply by the fact that living breathing customer service reps answer phones. Why?
Do you know that the average hold time for a customer dealing with an automated system is one minute, 51 seconds? First, you are asked to ‘Listen closely to our list of options”, then the recording lists the options and instruct the caller to press buttons, “Press one to continue in English, press two to continue in Sinhala” and so on, often purposefully steering customers in every direction except the one that leads to a human being.

On the other hand, customers calling a company that employs live agents to answer the phones are on hold for an average of just 51 seconds. All of us have encountered that “Your call is important to us, all our agents are busy; please be on line until your call is answered”. If my call is important as claimed, why cannot they instead say, “We are sorry, but we don’t have any operators to talk to you at the moment: if you are unable to be on line please press # and we will call you back within xx minutes.”

Hello there…..Are you nuts? Don’t you know that we have introduced massive phone menu systems and scripted customer service reps to tell you only one; one truth, “Nothing is more important to us than profits?”








Texts that vex
Seeing as 96 percent of users’ in the US text messages and 98 percent of text messages are read, compared to 29 percent of tweets and 12 percent of Facebook posts, SMS marketing is naturally a rich field of potential for digital marketers. Text messages are read on average within five seconds and the average person looks at his/her phone over 75 times a day. You may think you want text messages from your favourite restaurants, retail stores or supermarket but when you are receiving 25 or more texts per week from these establishments, you may begin to “opt out” one by one.

These text messages, especially when received at night, are also intrusive and extremely annoying. Cannot users mitigate the aggravation by setting up acceptable time zones for their short-form digital messaging channel? Last night I received a text message that urged me to “Hurry! Register today. O/L revision now available @.....” Now in the prime of my life, enjoying senior citizen status, I have no intention of resitting my O/Ls, which I passed in 1969!

Rather than take offence, I am amused by the text messages from the lingerie manufacture who triumphantly offers me a special discount on a selected range of women’s underwear. No sir! None can accuse me of harbouring any fetish to wear women’s garments. More recently, the texted ‘offers’ require one to have a sharp memory. Colonel Sander’s outlets extend a one-for-one fried chicken when you dine on this date and on that date. (It is no longer from this date until that date).
A Supermarket offers a discount on toys or decorations only if you shop between 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. If you can rewire your appetite to harp on buying a pizza on Tuesday and Thursday, then get a second pizza at half price. After embarrassing myself recently, when demanding that free ‘half-starter’ on my ‘take-away’ order and be told that it was for ‘dining in’ only. I really need to properly track all these fragmented offers that I get inundated with. All I now want for Christmas is another diary!





SMS marketing ‘best practices’
What happens is that once the database is set-up and your name is entered, you get text messages, emails and letters on a regular basis whether they are relevant to your current need or not. I have often wondered when stricter regulations would apply to text messaging and have always believed that if not done properly and without great value, it will be a failure. Even with value, I believe that a saturation point will occur. Here’s my suggested list of ideas for SMS marketing ‘best practices’ which I am freely offering all you digital marketers:

1.    Get my permission: You must have permission from me to send text marketing messages. If you don’t have my permission, it will make your business or organisation look spammy, create a bad name for yourself and irritate me.

2.    Pay attention to frequency: Do not send texts all the time! Nobody wants to get an excessive amount of texts landing on their phone from your business. I recommend no more than two – four texts per month. Any more will lose the ‘sizzle’ and annoy me.

3.    Text during normal hours: Only send text marketing messages during business hours. Seems pretty straight forward, right? Be courteous to your subscribers. I don’t enjoy waking up to your texts in the middle of the night. One of the many benefits of text marketing is to inspire immediate action from your customers; I certainly will not visit your restaurant or shop in the middle of the night! Would you in any case open shop for me after closing time?

4.    Provide value: Make certain every MS marketing message is relevant to me! If I am willing to give you permission to text me, make sure you give me something worthwhile in return. At my age, I simply don’t want face painting crayons! Also avoid sending me the same or very familiar boring text messages every week. Keep it fresh and exciting.

5.    Provide an exit: I need to know that I can opt out of your text marketing campaigns at any time. Look at the bright side when I opt out. It helps track where you went wrong. Was it point two, three, four, or all of the above or because I simply needed a ‘digital detox’ (where a person refrains from using smartphones or computers) without any ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out)?

Nurturing relationships with your customers is a crucial part of growing a successful business and in this age of automation and innovation, caring for your customers has never been more important.


(Shafeek Wahab has an extensive background in hospitality management spanning over 30 years. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad, including his last held position as the Head of Branding for a leading hotel group in Sri Lanka. Now focusing on corporate education, training, consulting and coaching, he can be contacted at shafeekwahab@in2ition.biz. Website: www.in2ition.biz)
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