Back in 1967, when Scottish inventor John Shepherd-Barron was sitting in his bathtub he had an epiphany: “If vending machines could dispense chocolate bars,” he thought, “why couldn’t they dispense cash”? 1 Ten years later, Citibank invested $100mm to install Automated Teller Machines all over New York City.
Some of us were alive then (and some of us were too young to even reach the Automated Teller Machine never mind withdraw any money but I digress…). What some of us may remember is there was a heated debate leading up to the launch on these strange new kiosks.
A common argument against ATMs was that people wanted to have a personal relationship with their banker. The trust generated by shaking someone’s hand and looking into his/her eyes could never be established with a faceless machine just distributing cash. Then, of course, there was the familiar routine of going to the bank, waiting in line and eventually standing directly across from the bank teller who would expertly and with a flourish, lay out the bills like a fan, counting as they went.
“Hi, Mr. Friedberg. So nice to see you again! It sure is hot out there! The usual today? Certainly. Aaaand, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five. Anything else I can do for you? Alrighty then. Thank you and have a nice day!”
Then, the unthinkable happened.
ATMs really took off. REALLY took off. Today, ATMs are so ubiquitous that there’s a page on the World Bank web site that shows how many ATMs there per capita by country. Did you know, for example, that in Kazakhstan, there are nearly 72 ATMs per 100,000 people? That’s 50% more than Mexico!
It turns out people just wanted their money. No pleasantries or fanning flourishes from the tellers.
Fast forward nearly forty years and people are not only banking online without the benefit of a teller, they’re buying and selling all manner or goods and services without so much as a salesperson. Turns out consumers don’t need retail sales people much anymore either. They just want their stuff. Properly packed, and delivered on-time.
But the mandate of convenience does NOT end with ATMs and purchasing and selling goods and services online. Turns out that people want fast and fair resolution to problem transactions (aka disputes).
“I didn’t receive my item.”
“I received the item but it’s…
- the wrong size
- the wrong color
- completely different from the item description
- the wrong item altogether
- the wrong… [fill in the blank]
“My car was smoky”
“The room was dirty”
“The food was inedible”
“The freelancer delivered inferior work”
“The [product or service] was [adjective]”
And on and on and on…
The question we hear a lot is, what about empathy? Shouldn’t companies whose customers have experienced a bad transaction avail their customer support teams to every incoming dispute? The answer is… No.
Let’s first define empathy: “The feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings”. 2
The reality is that in today’s eCommerce world, scaling empathy merely by increasing customer support people is NOT SCALABLE. Companies that attempt to do this are destined for failure because they cannot keep up with the pace of disputes. So how does an eCommerce company “scale empathy?”
Through technology. Seriously.
By implementing a rules-based, technology-driven resolution process, eCommerce companies actually deliver fast and fair resolutions for their customers. This, in turn, increases loyalty. It’s that simple.
To quote my colleague, Mike Greene who is the newest member of the team, “companies are actually being more empathetic by speeding up the resolution process than allowing it to slow down through traditional body-driven processes.”
Technology is advancing…
Remember those ATMs that only dispensed cash? They’re being replaced by more powerful and flexible machines that accept stacks of checks all at once, scanning and reading them, and rarely making mistakes. As such, bank customers now trust the machines, and in many cases prefer them for simple interactions.
As for resolving customer complaints… Although no longer in its infancy, online dispute resolution is still young and maturing quickly. We often say that eCommerce customers don’t want to talk to customer service as much as they want their dispute resolved. It’s this type of thinking that impelled eBay to launch its Item Not Received process in 2004. Since then, the online resolution process has advanced rapidly to include features that help companies and government agencies resolve all manner of disputes, including the most complex. From property assessment appeals to auto-insurance cases to eCommerce transaction disputes, Modria is demonstrating how technology really can help resolve disputes while delivering empathy to end users.
What about the bank tellers?
There are fewer bank tellers today, to be sure. The tellers instead focus on the exceptional processes, the tasks that require deliberation and advice. The administrative tasks have been transferred to the ATMs. These changes are good for consumers, and good for the banks.
Just so, technologies like Modria turn customer support teams into heroes and heroines by making them more efficient, to dedicate their time and effort to customer interactions that truly require high touch.
Three years before his death at age 84, John Shepherd-Barron was interviewed. He predicted that cash would all but disappear within three to five years and that customers would swipe their cellphones at cash registers to pay for things. 3 Perhaps not a big leap of faith. But it’s a reminder that technology waits for no one. Stops for nothing. Brilliant minds the world over are coding madly to solve problems through software, perhaps even problems we didn’t know we had, until – of course – we knew we had them (like social networking and ATMs).