Customer "Service"

One of the trials and tribulations (otherwise known as hits and misses) is customer service. We all know the reputation of Nordstroms, the Four Seasons Hotel and others. During last winters storms, one of my favorite airlines, JetBlue, got caught up in a major gaffe of leaving passengers in planes, on the ground for hours, hoping for the weather to clear. And the PR lashing they received was unreal and may take years to "clear their brand image".  This brings me to tech companies, game companies, or even toy companies.

One of the companies I've been an advisor to, Ugobe, is bringing to market a very innovative "life form" called Pleo (check out pleoworld.com or ugobe.com). With any new startup, the investment dollars typically go into research and development, hiring, production, and distribution. But what about post sale customer service? Is hiring tons of folks to man the phone lines the best way, or outsourcing it to lower cost regions? Or with the web and viewable and readable blogs, forums, wikis going to drastically increase self service? In an age were the "web generation" would rather Google search for answers vs talk to a human, is the human-centric call center becoming an un-needed skillset? Looking at today's youth with mobile devices, laptops, game systems I see more "texting" than talking, more online chatting than real chatting, and more over the internet multi-player game play and in person game play. It would be interesting to see what a typical voice minutes used verse the equivalent data minutes. 

As my team provides our partners and ISV's with live support while at the same time trying to also make our web site more self service, I'd be interested in getting your opinions on the trends you see happening over the next 5-10 years?  When we deployed our Teleweb capability on sun.com, the vast majority of contacts are electronic (live chats) vs human chats, even though both are as convenient.  

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