Business Management Articles
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by Rene T. Domingo (email comments to

Red tape is not just a bane in the real world. It exists in the virtual world just the same, only in some other form. You could experience handoffs, impersonal service, and long waits while engaging in e-commerce as you would in dealing with bricks and mortar service providers. How come technology, with all its advances, bells and whistles, could not entirely eliminate bad service and frayed customer nerves? Companies have continued to upgrade hardware and software. But who’s minding what is in the middle of the two- the middle ware or the mindware. In other words, who is in charge of thinking for the customer – the ultimate buyer and user of the virtual world? This blind spot phenomenon is not new. Manufacturing automation and robotics in the old economy did not entirely eliminate inefficiencies. In fact many companies have been financially ruined by blind automation because they simply automated existing inefficient operations which generated more waste faster. The service industry which includes the banking industry is supposedly the beneficiary of the internet e-commerce boom. But just like in the past, mindless e-commerce can automate red tape and handoffs to the detriment of customer service. Below are some important do’s and don’ts in e-banking and other e-services. Hopefully, they should help us deliver more superior customer service on line.

Answer e-mails promptly.

In the real world, outstanding service providers have a policy of answering the phone within three rings. Ironically, if you send an e-mail to a company address posted in most commercial websites, you are lucky to get a response within 24 hours. That is equivalent to not answering the phone after 90,000 rings. Many on-line users have received an e-mail response only after one week. This response may not even be a solution and answer to the e-mail inquiry, but an acknowledgement of receipt or a message that “somebody is attending to it.” To add insult to injury, I e-mailed an inquiry to a very popular commercial website, and it explicitly and confidently says that all inquiries will receive a response within 3 days. That was 3 months ago, and I have received nothing, not even an acknowledgement or error message. I thought an angry written letter sent directly to the company CEO would have elicited a faster and surer response. E-mails travel at almost the speed of light, but the response can come back through a sail boat. It behooves e-companies to reciprocate and respond to e-mails within the hour or within the day. In the virtual world, that’s lighting fast response.

Avoid multiple e-mail addressees.

Just like in the real world, too many specialists will result in multi-stop or multi-handoff processing of e-inquiries sent to a website. Many companies and organizations inadvertently expose their factional nature through their websites. These are designed such that visitors have to access and choose among several e-mails or even URL’s depending on the type of information or problem to be solved. The ideal of course, whether in the real or virtual world, is the one-stop shop in which the customers or visitor asks and deals only with one entity and gets his or her problem solved. The principle is to first streamline procedures and make your centers more cross functional, more multi skilled before putting and reflecting them in your website. In so doing, the visitor will have to deal only with one virtual person.

Don’t bury information in deep web pages,

Multiple handoffs can also come from website designs that are layers thick. Visitors are compelled to dig deep to find the information they want. Flipping through e-pages may take more time (download time) than flipping through printed ones. This is the instance wherein the virtual world is slower than its real counterpart. The less number of pages, real or not, to browse or pass through, and the less mouseclicks, the more pleasant the discovery process of the visitor. I would be comfortable if the information I want is just 2-3 mouseclicks away.

Most call centers are similarly guilty of deep and multiple-handoffs. With your touch phone, you have to press a bewildering sequence of several numbers, around 4-5, to get to the specific entity or person you want to talk to. To the utter disgust of most callers, especially to airlines and banks, after painstakingly entering the correct sequence and arriving at your destination, the person you want to talk to is tied up with other callers, and you are asked to wait, hold the line, and listen to endless Baroque music.

Make your website and its contents user friendly and searchable.

A visitor should not only easily find his way inside the website, but also know at once what are available and unavailable from the site. There should be a site map and a search facility to help the visitor locate what he is looking for. Similarly, we do not want a walk-in client wandering in the bank’s lobby at a loss on where to go and what to find. Directional and descriptive signages to guide visitors are just as important in websites as in physical office sites. Make your website readable. Avoid fine prints. If it’s not important, don’t show it at all. Text in small fonts are irritating to the eyes and the visitor. If you want your visitor to have a hard time reading a page, why publish it? Show pictures of people – officers, employees, customers. Humanize your site. A bank’s website need not be as intimidating and unfriendly as the stereotyped bank and its ATM. Conspicuously inform potential e-clients in your web site about the convenience and security of e-banking. Establish trust from the very first page of the site – the homepage. The homepage should appear like a helping hand (Let me help you. Here’s what we can do for you. ) rather than an impersonal face (What do you want? Click here).

Choose functionality over elegance.

A website need not be elegant to be personal and human. As explained above, a minimum of descriptive and readable formats should suffice in most cases. To me, the most personal and friendly website is the most functional because it makes my life and browsing easy. In order words, choose content over form. Don’t cover up content inadequacies with bells and whistles. Banking is such a serious affair that a website visitor wants to be satisfied first before entertained, not the other way around. I have seen so many e-banking websites, but none so far have included a searchable map and location of its ATMs which can help one find the nearest one from where he is staying. Of course, these websites have animated gifs and blinking text to mask its lack of content.

Don’t sacrifice speed with control and security.

Too much elegance and bells and whistles can severely slow down the website – in access, download, and response times. Another cause of or excuse for slow speed is control and security. Without argument, an e-commerce website, especially that of a bank, should be well secured to gain trust and encourage usage. But speed should not be compromised in the process. Remember the original mission of e-commerce: to make transacting faster and more convenient for the clients than the real world. If the website fails to accomplish this mission because of control, then it loses its appeal, its primary advantage, and reason for existence. The challenge is how to develop or choose the technology that will make your e-commerce fast, friendly, safe, and secure to users at the same time.

An Asian bank set about venturing into e-commerce. Its system engineers (the e-plumbers) began building layers of firewalls to foolproof the website, in accordance with the security standards set. When the CEO pilot tested it, he fumed after experiencing a long 13 minute wait just to access the most basic information. He castigated his hardware and software engineers for lacking in mindware, and not thinking like a customer or user. He ordered them to go back to the drawing board with the new mindset. The dumbfounded engineers thought they met their security objectives, which they did. The new plumbing made the site a lot faster without comprising control. The engineers were pleasantly surprised by their accomplishment and confessed it was the first time they did their work from the users’ point of view.

The moral of the story: Don’t let programmers, analysts, engineers, and other nerds manage your e-commerce. Sure they can design and install it, but let somebody else do the managing and directing. It is prudent to let your marketing department manage your the e-commerce project and supervise your IT group. Your website, your frontline front office window to the world, is too important to be given to the whims and fantasies of engineers, programmers, and other back-room personnel. Remember, it is your powerful sales and marketing weapon and customer service tool.


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