Thriving on customer dissatisfaction seems to be the hallmark of ‘digi-tech’ service. You buy a phone package that offers hundreds of free text messages, but come Diwali or Christmas, and you get a message they’ll charge for the greetings you send on that day. Forgot to close your data service when travelling abroad? You’ll be slapped a big bill! When your private bank has just raised the minimum balance amount and you don’t have the minimum savings required, they’ll slowly take away your savings as penalty. You’ll never know about it until you visit that bank account you’ve not operated for some time.
Service operators have immense faith in e-service, believing no human touch/feel interface delivers great customer service. How wrong can they be! Digi-tech can only solve the program that has been set. Have you experienced getting ripped off because of being unaware of 2G/3G mobile phone service availability when crossing inter-state borders? On landing you can message your client about your flight delay, but you find out the message was never delivered. Text messages don’t go when 3G is not available or works only intermittently. But e-service is so insensitive, it does not bother to inform you about readjusting your phone to 2G. Human contact is required in so many areas in the service industry, just going gaga over automation is not a solution.
Digital technology is killing the service industry’s customer centricity. A day’s delay in payment and you can be sure the telephone service provider’s representative will call you even without checking before disturbing you whether they have received the payment by that time. The way text messages junk your mail saying “Ignore if already paid”. Somebody else updates the receipts, the call centre person is merely prompted by the digital board to make that call.
On the other hand, whenever you as a premium customer call for specific service, you will be sent into multiple labyrinths of code to find the right person to solve your problem. Invariably, you find no one at the other end, as though the problem is yours alone to carry and coddle because a set digi-tech program cannot be controlled by an operator, you have to go to the source code.
Making love or giving affection cannot be done without human touch. In the same way, the service industry requires extreme human touch. The priority of most Indian mobile phone operators is getting the license and putting up the tower. These are hygiene factors for a mobile phone user. Whatever you develop in digi-tech, if your relationship with your customer is not humanised, you will never optimise your business to be sustaining, your business will become a fossil.
IT service industry to become the skeleton: Millions of our IT software programmers in the thousands of sophisticated development centres set up in India are doing piecemeal work. Many young IT service employees I’ve met have expressed their utter frustration working in the isolated island of software coding. At work, they have little idea what purpose they are solving. They get a decent salary, but their day-long digital coding job makes them feel like human robots. The developed country customer would have designed a product or solution, and farmed out the tedious code writing part to our IT service providers. So the IT engineer working on the project is often unaware of where his output will be used, nor what the final product is. He’s just a cog in the wheel, like an aggregate in any device, without a clue of where his hard work will be used. Nor does he care really because he’s signed up to just do this specific action. Will this situation sustain? What they tell me is developed country customers consider them as IT service coolies.
As IT service is an essential commodity product like electricity or water supply that you cannot do without, competition in the IT service industry will accelerate. Developing countries will be rationed out the developed countries’ outsourcing largesse, while the purchase cost of these services will keep plummeting. Unless Indian companies have the vision to use digi-tech as its backend skeleton and start developing flesh on this skeleton such as solving the client’s business solution, their survival will be at stake. Nor will they make any remarkable difference tomorrow. Additionally, shortage of manpower is making developed countries invent many new techniques to reduce and replace the human interface. So in the new way of working in this field, digital technology will reach its matured phase of obviously becoming the skeleton.
Where digi-tech cannot be replaced: Of course, digi-tech has helped tremendously in our daily lives. Families and friends globally are coming together with WhatsApp, voice/video via Viber/Skype. Where digi-tech makes huge contribution are the medical, steel, supply chain logistics, banking and aviation industries, among others. Industrial backend automation in areas like manufacturing requires uncompromising application of digital technology to avoid human error. Take the food industry where consistency of quality is not negotiable. The heavy use of manpower in processed food manufacturing is totally wrong. Individual peculiarity and interpretation in the assembly line do not add any value to customers who buy the products because lack of discipline erodes the consistency, quality and output of the products. I don’t know either it has been done for using manpower or for less investment on automation. In developed countries, robotics is highly used to ensure predictability in food processing for better public health.
Just see how Disney addresses entertainment for the masses. When you go to Disneyland, you don’t interface with digital technology even as their backbone is extremely digitalised. There’s no technical transaction, just humanised entertainment. Even the backend janitor’s job is performed by Disney animals like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy who play and pose for pictures with visitors even as they manage automated cleaning systems to keep the park clean and customer-friendly. Without human interface, the digitally-driven service industry can become fossilised tomorrow.
Shombit Sengupta is a global consultant on unique customer centricity strategy to execution excellence for top management. Reach him at www.shiningconsulting.com