The push-back on a 100% automated world is well underway. Ecommerce merchants, including information services, are increasingly being forced by consumers to show that they actually have real, living, breathing employees to support their convenient online offerings. Hiding behind email contact forms and sites without a single human’s name, a street address, or a land line will remain for a while, but not for much longer given the numerous initiatives to hold companies accountable for their business practices via social review sites and the general pressure from consumers for transparency.
Making matters more difficult for ecommerce players looking to keep overhead as low as possible, there has also been a major shift in call center work from India to the Philippines and, to an increasing degree, to the shores of the UK and the US. Banks were the first to tout the shift, running TV ads featuring the value of call center employees who cheerily greet customers with accents from Scotland or the American South. The move was due to an accent that lost its luster in the West and cultural disparities, but assuming the cost of shifting thousands of employees from one country or continent to another was still an incredibly expensive about-face. Ecommerce players who remain coy about their pricing and dodge their potential customers at every turn, should be ready to face the same reality: it’s time to invest in humans again.
Interaction with customers and prospects is a good thing in many ways. It presents the opportunity to upsell, to dispel misunderstandings about products and services, to increase renewal rates, to assess market needs, to defuse dissatisfaction, and to prevent cancellations via creative bargaining. These are intimate conversations best suited to product experts (wherever they may physically reside) and the expense of having “pricy” human resources is offset by multiple factors: lower cancellation rates; higher renewal rates; upsells; new product ideas; etc. These are all admittedly difficult to track in terms of metrics, but it can be done and I believe it’s unavoidable so the key is to do it right. It may represent one step back from the “electronic frontier,” but it’s one step closer to your customers.