money in the hands

Ok, let’s just go there.

There are lots of different ways to think about customer service, but at the end of the day, we all know what people really and truly care about: getting the job done as quickly and painlessly as possible. So, what if customers had the option to pay cold hard cash to get quicker customer service?

Yeah, this idea is little contentious and pretty much taboo for customer service people, but we all have been to that dark place, when waits in customer service settings are seemingly endless, and we’re just one automated phone prompt away from losing our minds. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago we looked at self-service versus real human interactions and got a lot of interesting comments.

Michael Schrage, however, recently posted what could be the answer we’ve all been waiting for:

While waiting (interminably) on hold for a human customer service agent, a horrible entrepreneurial revelation flashed before my eyes. If the automated voice on the line had asked, “Press #1 to pay $5 to immediately reach a representative,” I’d have hit that button in a heartbeat. Heck, if my wait had exceeded 25 minutes, I might have gone as high as $7 or $8. I hate being on hold.

It’s an interesting idea for sure, one that might have some folks profusely salivating at the prospect of such a possibility. But even if an organization could deploy the finest tools and processes for customer service, even were they to invest in self-service portals, FAQ lists, and all manner of automated processes – demand would still outstrip the economic ability of the organization to provide instant response. Quite simply we are a society that would much rather have someone else solve our problems than solve them for ourselves – extrapolate this fact across an entire nation (hell, an entire globe), and you’ve got a recipe for customer service mayhem – think of those little mice running around and around the wheel, but imagine that on a global scale.

So the solution is simple – design a system that creates an economic incentive to self service. Quite simply the laws of economics would suggest that giving people a choice of paying for quick customer service, finding the solution themselves, or waiting eons for an answer will self regulate. Over time more people will find their own solutions to problems, while a select few will pay for the privilege of a concierge-like service.

In his post, Schrage likens this to the situation with budget airlines. Sure, some people are happy paying extra for full baggage allowances, a meal in transit, and a movie to boot, but the vast majority considers air travel merely a quick means from A to B. By offering a service that gives them that travel at the lowest cost, but with the option of adding the extras as they wish, perhaps we’ve reached the heights of economic efficiency. It also offers businesses the most finely tuned way of slicing and dicing their offering, as Schrage points out:

Technological innovation has created not just a new fault line but a growing chasm in the way innovative customer service is embedded within innovative business models. Once a company is committed to slicing, dicing, and segmenting value for its customers, the natural question becomes, “Do we charge for that or give it away for free? Customer service will increasingly be defined less on comfort and convenience and more on the optional exchange of value for comfort and convenience. In effect, customer service will come to reflect a company’s, and an industry’s, innovative ability to use technology to create “market mechanisms” for monetization.

So there you go, how much would you be prepared to pay for fast customer service versus self serving for free? And can we even consider customer service in this way, as a separate part of a company’s offering – or is it inherently a part of what they sell, indivisible from the offering itself. As always, we’re keen to hear your views…

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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