Thursday, March 29, 2012

Machine-generated communications should get more human

SMS signal woke me up today from a vivid dream at about 6:30 a.m. Expecting a news alert of some kind and even fearing an emergency call-back request, I went to the check the phone. Reading the incoming message made me laugh with relief. After a quick dialog with my wife, we both went back to sleep.

Last Sunday I pre-ordered a vacuum cleaner for my mother-in-law at a top appliances store in Moscow, from its website. Almost immediately came in confirmations on SMS and over email. A few hours later we arrived at a nearby store to pick up the item, since I chose the new “self-delivery” option recently introduced there. I showed the confirmation message with the order number and about twenty minutes we left the store with brand new vac.

I can recall some confusion on sales manager's face when I had shown him the order number on my mobile phone. He didn't bother to write it down. “Must have a good memory for numbers,” I thought.

Today's eye-opening message said:
“Dear customer! Your order #... for self-delivery has been canceled since the item went out of stock. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”

By the way, the message was replicated by concurrent email in a shorter version, which lacked the reason for cancelation.

So the sales manager didn't complete my pre-order and wrote a new one instead. Who knows, maybe he'll get higher commission this way. Apart from the store's apparent internal communications problem, there is definitely an issue with its customer communications.

To sum up, good customer communications should be:

  1. Timely. But not necessarily delivered to bother (frighten) at day's dawn.

  2. Relevant and accurate. Re-check all information before communicating.

  3. Non-redundant. Why replicate messages on SMS and email? Use one medium as a priority one.
Machine-generated communications should thus get more human. But let's not forget that their elements are written and programed by us, humans.

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