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Customer service costs time and money, but it's worth doing

The essential guide to IT transformation

Outside of California, how many of us order up something from our baker with an email? How many of us have the local café on MSN? Do we set up an appointment with the barber over Skype or order in office supplies using Facebook?

Though these ideas may seem silly at first, the ease of “choose your own communications method” has a certain allure. It allows customers to do business in the manner that most befits their lifestyle.

I have recently found myself on the receiving end of a very pleasant customer service experience. Searching for a transmission on the internet led me to deal with a company called Bodyline Auto Recyclers.

The search results gave me the name of the company, a link to their website and most interestingly a “live chat” option. I was intrigued by this. I will be honest when I say that this alone led me to click on their site and try them first for the car I needed.

I know next to nothing about cars and after almost a week of searching for the right used part, to be able to conduct business with this company using methods of communication that were convenient to me was refreshing.

Their website has a little MSN Live Messenger widget on it. On the other end of it was a human being. I sent a tentative message describing what I was looking for, and lo and behold someone answered me and helped me solve my problem.

This sold me. Real-time human interaction with a company I want to do business with, using a medium (phone, Instant Messenger or email) of my choice...

Working in IT had gotten me acclimatised to pointless FAQs, snarky moderators on pointless forums and IVR phone systems that lead you in endless loops, ultimately getting nowhere.

Customer interaction is often dictated by corporate politics. How do the owners of the company want their customers to be able to interact with staff?

Each method of customer interaction can eat up time. Time, as we all know, is money. Sadly, many companies see this as a vital place for cost cutting and seek to use technology as a barrier to communication.

If you have ever had to deal with Google – or a Canadian ISP – you will understand what I am on about. Here I have discovered a company that has successfully merged the real-time interaction of an actual helpful human being with the multiple methods of communication that modern IT has to offer. They are not ruled by an algorithm. They were not using technology to dodge customers or redirect them through an obstacle course of standardised questions.

This random car-parts shop across the continent has not earned my praise because they implemented some fantastically difficult and complex enterprise communications system. They did not set up Microsoft Live Communications Server, marry it to a PBX and route it through seven proxies.

They did not embrace Twitter and Facebook, put up a blog and create an enhanced reality hive-mind with a near-field communications iThingy in 3D smell-o-vision. They used a dirt-simple MSN widget on their website and put a remarkably helpful warm body on the other end.

This humbles me. It reminds me as a systems administrator that IT is not about the technology, the buzzwords, the whitepapers or any of the other self-important tripe we wave around while trying to feel important. IT is about how you implement technology to actually enhance the lives of the people using it. One used transmission at a time. ®

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