Social Is The Soul Of Digital

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I’ve just returned from Florida. Loved the warmth of the swimming pools. Appreciated the ubiquity of common courtesy that America still maintains. Marvelled at the level to which Disney has problem solved in pursuit of creating the perfect Magic Kingdom.

For instance, SeaWorld, which is just down the road and is equally marvellous in other ways, has installed anti pigeon spikes on top of their outdoor speakers. Effective but ugly. Yet Disney have none. How do they get away with it?

Are the seven dwarfs on job share and clean them at 3.00am as part of the nightly makeover? Or does the underground command centre that controls the Magic Kingdom continuously emit a high frequency sonic barrier to repel those pigeons? Maybe the wasps as well, who are also magically absent from the trash bins.

Disney is a near perfect blend of digital wizardry and human engagement. Both are highly tuned, appropriate and in harmony. I liked it. My daughter absolutely loved it. Yet other deployments I encountered during our family holiday were not nearly as satisfying.

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With the fresh pair of eyes that a visitor brings, I noticed how prevalent the use of tablets had become when ordering food in restaurants. Doesn’t this undermine one of the core reasons we eat together – to connect and communicate?

In fact my wife had a strong Luddite moment at one restaurant as the screen continuously competed for our attention. The waiter ordered from it. My daughter was glued to the gaming section. I dabbled covertly. Eventually I had to place it face down to restore some old fashioned social harmony.

I then had my own moment at the airport coming home. I had got in line to order a shrimp and pork noodle dish only to be told by a confused Japanese customer that I was in the wrong queue.

First I needed to place my order using one of the tablets. Then I needed to get into another queue to pay and finally join a third queue to receive my order. In fact this was less of a queue than a loose crowd of irritated customers. By this point, muttering under their breath and complaining about the unnecessary complexity of it all.

To cap it all off, the ticket we were issued was as obscure as a utility bill. For instance, the order number the staff used to call out the next prepared order was just the last three digits of a full seven digit sequence; probably for convenience from their perspective. Was this highlighted on our ticket for easy recognition? Of course not!

The net result were backed up orders on the counter and lots of yelling to attract the attention of those muttering customers who were now intermingled with newly arrived customers who in turn were wondering how to make an order.

The food was great. But what a process!

Going Digital Is Not A Guaranteed Benefit

Here was a clear example of trying to become digital for its own sake. In fact it was an experience I instantly recognised as one I’d previously encountered in my local McDonalds.

Instead of a single queue and a short wait at the counter while the server rapidly assembled and delivered the order, we now had to order via giant smartphone styled touch screens to receive a ticket and then go through the same inefficient and irritating queuing process. If McDonalds was good at anything it was maintaining a fast queue ethos within an ever changing workforce.

I really wish which ever consultancy is currently peddling this model would step out from the shadows and explain how this example of digital transformation benefits us as customers. Or for that matter how it benefits the retailers who will start losing customers as they quit in search of simplicity and human connection.

Whoever they are, I would like to recommend the addition of UX and service design experts onto the team as a matter of urgency. Common sense needs re-establishing.

For sure, digital is the next milestone we are all going through. No doubt about that.

Even so, the prospect of travelling in a driverless car currently worries the heck out of me. And I definitely fear traversing crossroads at speed without the comfort of traffic lights. Even though I can apparently trust that the perfect path is already plotted faster than I can assimilate the scenario. When push comes to shove, no doubt I will be riding in them. Even if as a (very) late adopter.

Digital is changing how we live. So we need to safeguard what we value as gold rush fever is clearly taking over.

Industry colleague Esteban Kolksy recently wrote a post highlighting the issues with smart tech potentially getting out of control. Apparently even the evangelists of digital living are getting the heebie-jeebies over the speed at which intelligent silicon is evolving. It seems the ‘Arnie-fication of society as I like to call it (aka Skynet from the Terminator franchise) is approaching a little too fast.

This evolutionary path becomes ever clearer as the speed of digital innovation accelerates. Did you realise that Virtual Intelligent Assistants are already adopted as the face of self service in over 1,000 globally recognised brands?

Or that an even more powerful version is being embedded into robotic form as various military experiment with their first generation of ‘hunt to kill’ assets?

Every revolution has its shadow.

Real time use of individual data is very much part of the digital agenda. Brands use it. Hackers steal it. Governments insist on it. Maybe unsurprisingly here in the UK at least, the latest research says we do not trust brands with what they know about us.

According to a June 2015 study conducted by YouGov for Deloitte, “internet users in Great Britain generally viewed personalization efforts with disdain”.

  • 66% said they were concerned about the amount of information that companies had about them in order to fuel their personalization efforts
  • A further 50% said they weren’t happy for companies to use such information in order to offer personalized products

Let’s move onto another example of digital transformation with two faces to it. Have you yet tuned into the growing talk about permanent job redundancies? This is predicted as a result of intelligent digital workflow transforming logistics, manufacturing and service sectors.

This may well make us happier as customers in terms of greater responsiveness at lower cost, but not as individuals needing employment to pay the bills.

The Value That Social Brings To Digital

At the heart of each of these transformational efforts is a struggle around the balance of interests. What matters most to us? Do we end up richer or poorer as societies?

Just because we can does not mean we should. One version of digital transformation might result in a much more efficient world. But one in which being human is a much reduced experience. On the other hand, we can see how brands that celebrate their customers’ humanity such as Disney get where the balance needs to sit.

Technical wizardry is an empty experience without human engagement. However when it is dovetailed, then it becomes magical and a welcomed experience.

In a similar manner, social engagement amplifies the conversation between customer and organisation. It can become a theatre of engagement witnessed by others just as Disney uses the Magic Kingdom and its other venues to create a theatre of experience.

This is why ‘social is the soul of digital’.

There is much talk about growth in social customer service. I notice at least half a dozen posts every day on talking up the latest growth stats. Facebook has positioned its Messenger service as a service tool. Twitter is getting giddy right now about how it’s the new and only go to channel for customer service. A rather naïve positioning I hope they will temper once they attend their first omni-channel webinar.

In the context of what I’ve just been discussing about digital rollouts, this expansion in social channels is a crucial point. Human engagement is needed to temper and dovetail with the technical wizardry we now see being deployed.

We might be moving at what feels like the speed of light but in other respects nothing changes. The human need for trust built from engagement remains the basis upon which all forms of relationship are built. This includes commerce, whether face to face or digital.

Thus social customer service or its broader version (as explored in the customer hub series of posts) needs recognising as a key part of an organisation’s digital strategy.

To fulfil that obligation it should to be conceived and executed as a ‘theatre of engagement’ rather than as a low value add on to traditional customer service. Its ambition is to be consistently excellent and amazing in the way Disney has pioneered.

Other parts of this conversation

Whatsup With Social Customer Service?

Why Social Customer Service Is Your First Real Digital Milestone

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