Automating Yourself Out of a Job

Published On August 12, 2010 | By mbalogh | Blog, Uncategorized

When I use the phrase “automating yourself out of a job” I bet your mind jumps directly to efficiency, manufacturing, production, and making tasks so easy one person can do the work of seven or even seventeen.  Sure, that’s a large part of it, but there’s another part.  A trend I’ve been seeing for a while now where we use technology to save money, or even make money, at the expense of our customers.

The other day I drove up to an ATM at my local Bank of America.  They have this cool feature where the machines no longer use envelopes.  At first I loved it, but after five minutes of depositing checks I started to miss my pen and paper.  Touch deposit check, put the check in, machine could not read the amount — please enter it manually, confirm the amount, display current balance of deposited checks, would you like to deposit another?  Repeat.  Line building up behind me.  Repeat.  Leave.  Next time I’ll just go to a teller.

My ATM experience is not unlike many of my online experiences.  How often do we come upon a website, club, or group we have an interest in or a product we’d like more information about but get stifled by the sign-up page?  It’s like fishing with a protective filter around the bait.  Sorry Mr. Fish, please answer the following questions:  What type of fish are you?  How long are you mouth to tail?  How much do you weigh?  What other bait do you like?  I know you’re here now, but tell me other ways to contact you.  Please check here if we can send other fisherman your way.  Hello?  Damn.  Lost another one.  Better try different bait.

“Please listen carefully as our menu’s have changed”.  Really, I don’t believe you.  I think they’re exactly the same as last time I called.  You want me to segment my self.  I once sent a customer complain email via the website for every 60 seconds I was on hold for 1.5 hours (and I hope their customer care numbers tanked for the month).  In their defense the automated voice did come on every minute or two to remind me the company values my call but, again, I did not believe.

Why do we do this?  Technology has made us lazy.  We ask perfectly good prospects to segment and sell themselves when we have perfectly good sales people who should do it for them.  The result: better information and fewer customers.  It’s called drop-off, and it can be avoided.

Wouldn’t it be a better experience to have a level 1 operator simply ask, “how may I direct your call?” or “I’m sorry sir, there’s a 1.5 hour wait.  Would you mind if one of our representatives called you back?”  How novel!  20 seconds later they’re off the line, I’m not on hold, and I feel like someone cares.

Take the Best Buy Corporate Gift Cards Order Form.  There are 15 required fields on this form but when you submit all you’ll get is a phone call from a representative confirming your information and asking for your credit card (which the form does not accept).  Let’s assume the site is not PCI compliant, so they cannot accept credit cards.  Why require all the rest of the information just to have a rep call and ask for the last bit?  Why not give the option to submit as much or as little information as you like with one singularly required field: a method of contact.  Let the professionals take it from there.

Don’t drive potential customers away under the guise of better serving them, innovation, or new technology when in reality you could have collected the information, made a sale, pleased your customer, and built your client base better without it.

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