Thursday, February 22, 2007

Asynchronous Service

The other day, I phoned my broker to question a small anomaly on my account. I spoke to someone, explained the problem, and could hear her trying to work out what had occurred.

"Tell you what," I said after a couple of minutes listening to her muttering under her breath, "instead of my hanging on here while you investigate, why don't you phone me back when you have the answer." "I might not be able to get back to you today, would Monday morning be acceptable?", she asked. "Fine", I said.

Many customer service operations simply don't have this facility, and make you hold on while they solve the problem. This is a form of synchronous service. In a post called Starting Over with Customer Service, marketing guru Seth Godin questions "the desire to perform all customer service in real time" and discusses the benefits of what I would call asynchronous service. He points out that "because it turns out to be far more efficient, it's actually cheaper". Not just more efficient for the customer service organization, of course, but also avoids wasting so much of the customer's time.

As it happens, there was a slight problem when she called me on Monday morning, and wanted me to give her some identification before she was willing to discuss my account. I generally refuse to give identification when I have't initiated the call. So her privacy/security policy conflicted with my anti-phishing policy. The solution was for me to call her back - but then because it was Monday morning, I had difficulty getting through. So that wasted a little time after all.

So my overall evaluation of this particular asynchronous service was mixed. I was very happy that my broker had the flexibility to offer a call-back service, but I was not altogether happy with the way the call-back service was implemented. Evidently there are some non-trivial workflow and handshake issues to get an asynchronous service working properly, but the benefits (in terms of improved customer satisfaction) are considerable. I live in hope.

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