A member of the Next Caller team, Zach Shaw holds a Philosophy degree from Princeton University with a certificate in Computer Science. Every so often, Zach shares his musings about the intersection of big data and technology with some age-old philosophical questions.
In her recent book Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle explores the effects of our constant use of social media on our mobile devices. Originally, the constant connection brought about by new technologies was seen as an extension of our personal identities. However, as Turkle notes, there are many adverse effects from these information communication technologies (ICTs) - foremost the replacement of face-to-face communication by digital interaction. People do not learn empathy through the use of social networks. They learn how to get the most likes on their profiles. Our self esteem is intimately linked with our popularity on such websites, and we'll do everything in our power to boost that popularity, including sacrificing an intimate conversation with a friend or family member. Even when we are conversing face-to-face, our mobile devices make it possible for us to be 'alone together.' We can be physically together with another person, but completely inattentive to them as a human being. As a society this is a major development, and, in the eyes of Turkle, a major problem.
Not lagging behind, the customer service space has adapted to such technologies. We can tweet about our bad experience on an airline. We can email the customer service department about our phone malfunctioning. We can online chat with a representative about our order on Amazon.com. Communication to address our concerns with a product or service has been extended by these ICTs; consequently, as customers, it is easier than ever to solve our problems. Yet, when we really are frustrated we still resort to the phone.
A customer service phone call is uniquely outside the grasp of distracting mobile technologies because both individuals on the call are focused on achieving the same goal: solving the customer's problem as quickly as possible. You, the customer, want your concern addressed, and, until it is, you will give your undivided attention to the phone call. Conversely, the representative will lose his or her job if not engaged. So in this one case, the ability to have limitless distractions and data at your fingertips does not hinder the quality of your conversation.
Let's compare this to a typical conversation with a friend. You both have several different goals. You each want to improve your status on Facebook. Maybe one of you wants some encouragement to work harder at your job from the conversation. The other friend wants to talk about the latest gossip. There is somewhat of a prisoner's dilemma here. Because you both took the time to hang out, let's assume that you both enjoy hanging out more than going on Facebook. Given that assumption, let's give the value of 1 happiness point to each of you for the action of going on Facebook, and the value of 5 for the other two activities of face-to-face conversation. However, if you choose to go on Facebook, you are guaranteed 1 point whereas, if you choose to engage in the face-to-face conversation where you both are pursuing different goals, it is likely that one of you will not achieve your goal.
Even if you are very risk-averse, you would probably choose the conversation at first - that's why you both are hanging out. But if the conversation starts to veer off course of your individual goal to another topic (I assume in my model your friend's goal instead), it is more beneficial for you to stop paying attention to the conversation and to go on Facebook. If there is a more comfortable, egotistical alternative to genuine empathy, we will take it. Therein lies the dilemma of being 'alone together.'
Conversely, returning to customer service calls, the conversation is actually improved by recently developed ICTs. Certain technologies allow representatives to access demographic information about their customers which these representatives can use to better meet their customers' needs. With new innovations like omni-channel integration, representatives can specialize their knowledge to specific products or services, and thus better achieve the joint goal of any customer service conversation: addressing the customer's concern. Instead of destroying the quality of these conversations, new technologies are enabling better communication in the customer service space.
In spite of the stigma arguments like Turkle’s have started to propagate against ICTs, customer service providers and call center professionals need to take advantage of these new technologies in order to maintain customer loyalty. The average person’s patience is dwindling because of the immediate gratification these technologies have brought to us. As a result, customer service needs to be better than ever before, and these new technologies are the only way to meet consumers’ rising expectations. Without adapting to this changing landscape, customers will go on Facebook if they aren’t satisfied within a couple minutes - and choose a competitor.
Interested in more of Zach's philosophical musings? Contact the author - firstname.lastname@example.org.