Service in a Faceless E-conomy

We may be entering the age of the faceless organisation. Ron Kaufman, consultant to global corporate houses and acclaimed author, gives his own take on the form and format of customer service of the future.


Dubai: We may be entering the age of the faceless organisation. All of the products and services that one can think of would be a computer keyboard away, while the organisation that you need to deal with resides behind the screen.

In such a transformation, where would that long-cherished ideal of customer service be? Would it need to reconfigure itself to fit the click-and-seek dynamic of e-commerce?

Ron Kaufman, consultant to global corporate houses and acclaimed author, gives his own take on the form and format of customer service of the future.

Kaufman is in Dubai tomorrow to helm a seminar and workshop at the Le Meridièn Dubai.

At a time when e-commerce is getting all the attention, is the future of customer service a faceless one?

Absolutely, technology will continue to pervade our lives. It will become more dominant as a channel for service delivery. However, there will always be times when technology is not able to anticipate certain questions.

Human beings are always coming up with questions that have not yet been answered and technology will not be able to do what humans can do face-to-face in terms of managing mood, in terms of providing encouragement, and from the standpoint of motivating or inspiring someone to see what’s possible for them. That’s a human-to-human interaction.

My belief is that technology is here to serve us, to make it easier for the routine elements of service to be handled in a way that is effective, efficient and preferably without any difficulties or errors, allowing human beings to inhabit that space of individuality, that space of personal responsiveness and anticipation. That’s where human beings can take care of other human beings. That’s on the sales side.

Even now, you see some of the best brands, with a track record of customer service to match, making missteps. Think Netflix, think Toyota, and the problems they’ve had in the US recently. Do you feel it’s more about companies failing to keep things simple?

I don’t think it’s a matter of keeping things simple. I think what’s missing in both of those cases is having a powerful service recovery strategy in place.

Let me give you an example. Imagine if Toyota, instead of focusing only on fixing the brakes as quickly as possible had focused instead on doing whatever was possible to get each owner of a Lexus or a Toyota worldwide into their next vehicle and have it be on-brand.

For example, if you were a Toyota owner, the first thing we would do is bring your car into the shop. We would, of course, repair the brakes. As long as we had the car in the shop, we would do everything possible to tune it up, to clean it up, to put it in the body shop and touch it up.

If Toyota’s focus and their metric on service recovery had not been ‘how quickly do we replace your brakes’ but rather ‘what percentage of our current car owners can we migrate into their next car’ that would’ve become the kind of case study of service recovery that the entire world would’ve been blown away by.

Rather than losing billions of dollars in brand value due to the problem with the brakes, they would’ve accumulated billions of dollars in brand value from having taken the problem and looked at it in this particular way.

But wouldn’t you agree that customer servicing — and all that it stands for — is, at its core, uncomplicated?

I think that it is foundational and fundamental to human life. You could actually say that the fundamental reason why human beings are here is to take action to take care of each other.And that’s my definition of service — taking action to take care of someone else. So I would say that servicing one another, it’s at its core fundamental. The problem is that our educational system is not doing what it should be doing of teaching everybody the fundamental principles of service.

You talk about building service cultures. But shouldn’t these be in place already?

The cultures of various organisations are in place. The question is whether or not the culture is confused or aligned.

What often happens is that marketing will say one thing but finance will say something else. The boss says do this but when you’re not looking, or when he doesn’t know you’re looking, he actually does that.

You have different components of a culture, which can be sending messages that are sometimes in conflict or not well aligned with one another. So when I talk about building a service culture, what I’m saying is to take all of those elements that are already there and make sure that they are reinforcing the same message to people, over and over and over again.

In a multicultural environment such as the Gulf’s, is creating a homogenous service culture difficult?

I don’t think that a homogenous service culture is what companies should be aiming to create. Customers are different.

So, to say that you want a homogenous service culture makes sense in a place like McDonald’s, which does very well in the Gulf. But what they’ve done is created a single culture where customers know exactly why they’re going to McDonald’s.

But in a multicultural environment such as the Gulf, where you may also have a multicultural customer base, if what you are providing to people is not a homogenous product like McDonald’s, then you don’t want to do a one-size-fits-all solution.

What you want to do is educate your people to be able to provide service of the right size and the right fit for different customers, who have different expectations and different needs at different times.

Core principles

12 building blocks

Ron Kaufman has put together the 12 building blocks an organisation should have to create a ‘service architecture’ within itself. These are:
A common service language.

  • An engaging service vision.
  • A new service recruitment that brings the right people in.
  • A powerful service orientation that lets them know what kind of organisation they’ve joined.
  • Service communications.
  • Rewards and recognition.
  • Capturing the voice of the customer.
  • Having proper service measures and metrics cascaded throughout the organisation.
  • A service improvement process, like a suggestion scheme, a contest or cross-functional work teams.
  • Service recovery and guarantees.
  • Service benchmarking — seeing who else is doing well that you can learn from.

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