Business Management Articles
/ Customer Service Management

HOW INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY WILL REDEFINE
CUSTOMER SERVICE

by Rene T. Domingo (email comments to rtd@aim.edu)

Information technology will have a great impact on how we perceive and deliver service. It will change many aspects of service management. Let us examine some critical service management aspects that will be redefined by IT.

More customer participation

IT will enable customers to participate or participate more actively in the service delivery process. Using the keyboard or ATM keys, customers willingly and conveniently enter data, such as amounts, personal data, account numbers, etc.. In a manual non-IT enabled system, these information would otherwise be entered by a human front-liner while the customer waits in front of him.

Two things happen in IT-enabled customer systems. Firstly, the front-liner or counter personnel is deloaded of a lot of clerical work and can spend more time in more productive tasks. Conversely, less employees may be assigned to run a particular process. The service provider is actually getting free capacity and manhours from the customers themselves. This principle is the heart of low-cost, fast-food, waiter-less restaurants, wherein customers do most of the normal employee’s tasks – ordering, serving, and even disposing of dirty dishes. It will be a matter of time when these establishments become fully IT enabled and we do not have to line up for our hamburgers and French fries. All we have to do is get to our tables all fitted with touch screens that show the menu, punch our orders, swipe our e-cards or credit cards for payment, and get our order from the counter once the same screen says its ready and “Enjoy your meal”.

Secondly, with IT enabled systems, customers will feel less time waiting since they are busy participating in the process. Though the total process time may not have changed (somebody has to enter data into the system, whether the clerk or client, and consume the same time), the psychological waiting time is shortened from the client’s perspective. Remember what makes waiting time, particularly queuing time, very apparent and agonizing, is the fact that you are doing nothing but watch time fly by. IT will virtually eliminate complaints about perceived long waiting time, since the customer himself immediately starts the process and starts being processed once he gets into the system or establishment.

While IT provide benefits and advantages to both clients and service providers, the latter will have to take new responsibilities. Service providers will have to make sure that their customers are technology literate, particularly with keyboard/touch screen operations, so that they can participate fully and correctly in the IT enabled service systems. There are two ways to address the customer literacy issue. The first one, which is the ideal and most logical one, is training and educating the customers. Unfortunately, the mass of customers who will use IT service systems are not professionals patient and willing to attend seminars off-site, like buyers of mainframe computers and sophisticated automated machinery. They are mostly students, juveniles, housewives, blue collar workers, or busy executives – people who don’t want to be bothered by any formal training just to complete their day to day transaction or purchases. In the first place, service providers cannot get hold of this anonymous mass of clients or even identify them. One indirect and non-intrusive training mode is posting instructions besides ATM or any other IT interface equipment, with the hope that the user would read them first, decipher them, and then follow them correctly and carefully. But even this training mode fails because by nature, most customers dislike reading written instructions, which is time consuming and even embarrassing especially if there are people behind them and long queues of other customers impatiently waiting for their turn. Some customers cannot even read instructions, much less understand and follow them.

The second and perhaps more practical way to address the customer IT literacy or illiteracy issue is by designing very user-friendly, robust, fool proofed, and error-compliant systems – both hardware and software, so that the average down to the least sophisticated user can comfortably handle them. This approach or service philosophy virtually eliminates the need for any customer training and education. First time users should be able to use these intuitive IT systems with ease and confidence. It is not surprising that after decades of ATM operations and proliferation, many bank clients still prefer to deal with live tellers. Present day ATM’s are not yet user friendly, if you benchmark them with the more intuitive PC microcomputer systems or even Playstation and Nintendo game machines which heavily use graphical user interface (GUI). GUI systems employ simple graphics, colors, icons and other intuitive symbols in its menu of instructions and options to greatly facilitate understanding and usage. ATM machine instructions on the other hand are primarily text based and are prone to errors and poor readability due to poor lighting, language differences, and poor eyesight. More colors and descriptive graphics would make ATMs more usable, convenient, and enjoyable to operate. To give a more specific example, ATMs do not have the convenient “back” or backtrack keys of Web browsers, that enables you to go back to the screen or menu where you came from, or in case you arrived in a screen you are not particularly interested in. Without the back keys, ATM users, especially beginners and error-prone ones, find it hard to navigate amidst the numerous options and services it offers.

Standardized 24-hour service

While IT service systems will enable clients to participate and make personal decisions and choices on their own, services - offerings and options - will actually become more standardized due to centralization of design and control. While ATM’s are situated in branches, these local machines are actually offering services controlled by and emanating from head office. This degree of control, and centralized power to redesign products and launch new ones instantaneously and simultaneously in multiple sites, are not possible with disconnected networks of stand-alone, manually driven branches or stores. IT will mean the end of location specific services and many branch operations. The future branches will become mere extensions and conduits of services coming from a far-away, head office transparent to the customer interfacing with its IT systems.

Moreover, since systems do not sleep nor get tired, 24-hour, 7- days-a-week services will become the norm, and the concepts of “9 to 5 office hours or working hours” will disappear. The new management issue is how to manage systems that run continuously. Most establishments employing IT will have to learn how to run 3-shift continuously operations, not unlike hospitals, hotels, and power plants. Service quality and responsiveness should not fluctuate during the 24-hour day. There will be a much greater need for machine and system reliability and maintenance. Backroom systems should be beefed up to support continuous front line operations. Redundant systems should be installed to avoid service downtime in case of breakdown and machine failure.

In spite the influx of technology into services, some service management aspects will remain the same. There will be still be a need for fast response and fast resolution of customer requests. People will complain regardless of whether a teller or an ATM or any other IT interface machine is slow in processing a query or order. Queues will still happen, whether in front of a live teller or an ATM booth. Therefore queue management and crowd control will still be necessary. IT will continue to change the landscape of the service industry. It is important to understand the new responsibilities, resources, and expectations that come with it to make it work.


 

home | about | feedback | buy a book |

Copyright 2003. RTDOnline.com. All Rights Reserved.