An open letter to Seth Godin on his negative post on company's use of Websites and IVR's to control customer service costs.
I really respect your intellect and the wonderful perspective you bring to marketing and strategy, but you are dead wrong on this topic.
I decided to post an open letter response to your Blog Post on this topic, since it doesn't appear you allow comments on your Blog. Why do you do that? To control user contact with you? Right. It costs a lot to talk to everyone with every little issue that they have with you or your site, doesn't it?
I have been thinking about this problem, and the many solutions for the past 5 years - so I know a little about it. My company, Finali Corporation, provides an analytic approach to understanding why someone would call a company. We use that knowledge to recommend a variety of things, but one of the most important strategies is building and deploying effective automation.
People often call with very simple questions. That simple question needs to be answered, but often provides no economic value for the company being called. It's a pure cost item. Many of these contacts can be answered with web content, or via automated IVR interactions. Not all users will want to use these solutions, so a balance has to be struck, where some callers use automation while others "Zero Out" by hitting the "0" key, or in the case of Web Automation, "Escalate" to "Live Help" through email, phone, or chat. This allows the customer to get the question answered in a channel of their choice, and offer the company a lever to control their costs. 800 numbers, basically free long distance calls for the customer, are a cost that the company must bear. But more importantly, 800 numbers are also a HUGE enticement for people to call - much like all the people who would generate comments on your blog if you allowed them. In an ideal world, a company would view these customer contacts as a great opportunity to talk to their customers and generate more sales or to at least generate more loyalty.
Unfortunately that is a naive perspective - these "non-revenue generating" calls cost companies millions (multi-millions for many companies) per year. Many more customers call not wanting to spend any money than call that do, and if the customers question can be answered through automation (and the customer will use it) it is an effective (not to mention faster) way for a company to control their costs.
Perfect business communication, and perfect business process would eliminate most of this need, but that has proven to be an elusive goal. The answer is to analyze the problem and deploy engaging, smart, and useful web or IVR automation. It works, and customer satisfaction can actually increase. That takes deft design and deployment - which is what Finali provides.
Love the altruistic post though. Business Altruism = US Welfare System. Feels right, but that dog won't hunt.
Dan Burgin, CTO