I am writing this in a Starbucks on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. All around me people sit, ear-plugged in and laptop ready.
This is what I call the Starbucks Generation -- Gen Y or millennials -- who work from anywhere there is an internet connection. To successfully reach this Starbucks Generation, it’s important to leverage the various digital channels, especially The Human Channel.
The human channel enables face-to-face interaction via the internet -- either on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting. This is especially true on collaborative projects, such as demoing a complex product, troubleshooting a customer issue or reaching influencers.
Putting a Face on Customer Service
Online human interaction is moving to the next level with more personal technologies, such as Google+ Hangouts and Skype. Google+ Hangouts, for example, will fuse together best practices of call centers and digital marketing to create one type of human channel. Sarah Hill, a woman who has mastered the art of human media and is making a name for herself by being one of the most popular users on Google+, believes this technology will take customer service to the next level. She’s right. Learn more about Sarah Hill here.
Even Amazon, which once stated "the best service is no service" offers personal human interaction on their Kindle. Their new feature Mayday, which is a single-click, that lets users work with a remote tech support representative to solve problems with their tablets. As Techcrunch recently pointed out,
The service allows you to see a remote tech support person in a small window on your screen and also displays your screen on the support person’s computer where they can watch what you’re doing online, annotate the screen, and even tap through the interface.”
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said it’s like “actually very similar to having someone standing next to you” and offering tech support. Imagine a company like Amazon moving in this direction. See their video about the service:
Merging the Call Center and Digital Marketing Channel
I recently did a Follow-Me-Home, Intuit’s term for watching customers use your product in their office environment, and played the role of a customer service rep at a client’s office. While on the phone, a customer couldn't interpret or implement my suggestions for solving his problem. It wasn't his fault. The client’s product is complex and requires creative problem solving to decipher the sites features.
I suggested to the customer that we get on a Google+ Hangout so I could watch how he used my client's application. The result was magical. I could see where he was clicking. I could listen to him describe how he used the program (it’s always valuable to hear the words customers use to describe their problems). But most importantly, I could record our interaction (yes, I asked for his permission to do this), so I could share everything I learned with the product development team.
Being face-to-face online improved our communication and our understanding of each other. It also opened up the opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell additional services because I had his visual trust. I repeat: I had his visual trust. While there is a real and substantial opportunity to use Google+ Hangouts as a next generation customer service tool, it should also be thought of as a new sales channel.
One caveat: You need margin to spare if you are going to integrate this platform into your daily customer service, training or product demo operations. It might be costly to do one-on-one support using Hangouts. However, having a tutorial for many participants at once might not be as costly for a company.
Despite this, the Human Channel will increasingly become important as companies begin to explore the digital space. In time, it will not only be an asset, but a necessity for companies to leverage the human channel. As tech-savvy millennials get older, the need to reach them through technology will become greater and greater. The Human Channel will enable companies to continue in their quest to humanize their offerings and get closer to their customers. It will also serve as a tool to reach targeted audiences.
Editor's Note: Read more from Scott in Employee Engagement: Its ROI May Be More Than You Think