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Technology in the Wrong Hands

Troy Hill

Recently while researching some custom options for one of my clients, I stumbled across a company's web site and within moments of landing on their home page, I was engaged in an instant message conversation with one of their representatives.

Normally, having such a great technological feature added to a site can be a really nice thing.  It allows the visitor of the site to have immediate access to someone from the company to answer any questions they might have. 

 In this article I'm going to discuss why this can be a really good thing for businesses and why it can also be a really bad thing, as unfortunately was the case.

How it Works:
The instant messaging window is a feature added to the site through scripting and it enables the site owner to determine at what point they wish to activate it and begin interacting directly with the client.  A little fine-tuning is required because if you initiate a chat too soon and haven't given the visitor enough time to learn about your service offerings, your representative might find themselves bombarded with a host of questions that your site should be designed to answer by itself.  Wait too long and the visitor may leave your site entirely and you won't have a chance to interact at all.

The script sounds an alarm on the business' computer after a visitor has been on the site for the specified time and then they can begin interacting with the visitor.

Most businesses who employ this service, connect it to the sales team who are usually best suited to field the myriad of questions visitors might have.  Other businesses elect to have whomever is sitting at the computer at that time and this often becomes the responsibility of the receptionist.

The Good:
Being able to instant message a visitor to your site can be a really great opportunity to make a personal connection and showcase the quality of your customer service.  It can help to fine-tune the online experience for your visitor by addressing any immediate concerns they may have without them having to search through the site, page by page in order to find answers to questions they might have about your services.

The Bad:
Sometimes the representative might not be the best person you want being the online face of your company.  The visitor to the site has no idea what role "Tim Anderson" plays within the company.  He could be the president or the receptionist or maybe even the intern who was asked to temporarily help out.

When someone from your company makes contact with your online visitor, they are now the face of your company.  Everything they say and do is going to fall under scrutiny.  Are they knowledgeable about the company?  Do they know a lot about whatever product the online visitor is inquiring about?  Do they have excellent typing and conversation skills?

The Ugly:
I have changed the names and the company to avoid any undue embarrassment.  My experience started with the chat program opening up and it told me I was speaking with Bob Smith.  Halfway into typing my first question and it told me I was speaking with Allen Jones.  There was a brief moment where I sought clarification to whom exactly I was speaking with - turned out it was Bob Smith.

We continued chatting and I inquired about their services, asking some clarifying as well as qualifying questions about ACME Inc.  Bob did a good job of fielding my questions, until we got stuck talking about annual versus monthly discounts on the services they provided.

The site showed monthly package discounts for their services but didn't mention annual discounts, so I asked about those.  Bob said they did have annual discounts but then he wasn't able to tell me what they were.  I chased for a bit as my frustration grew and was then told that once I signed up as a customer, they could tell me what the discounts were.  I believe this had something to do with buying in bulk, but I'm not sure.

This may very well have been a case of not properly understanding my question or perhaps I was reading a late response from him in relation to a question I had asked before.  It's impossible to know exactly where the disconnect was, only that there was a big disconnect when it came to monthly versus annual discounts.

We talked a bit more as I tried to determine why I had to be a client to find out what discounts were or were not available and then Bob Smith, presumably wanted to terminate the chat and told me "May God bless."

I couldn't really believe that he had just typed that into the chat window and sent that to someone he knew very very little about.  I then countered with my query as to what if I didn't believe in God?  What if I didn't believe in any higher power?  Or maybe I believed in the Wiccan way? 

His response was basically that I believed in whatever I believed in, to which I agreed, but I pointed out that I didn't actually thrust my beliefs upon someone else, whom I didn't even know, whereas he had.

I love a good debate and I found it very interesting that something like this would actually take place in a business environment!  Unfortunately, the conversation didn't go much further because Bob Smith had to attend a production meeting and had to leave the chat.

Seriously.

A representative of the company I was researching towards the possibility of using their services, had left my annual discount question unresolved, had brought religion into the conversation, and was now unceremoniously dropping the entire thing because he had a meeting to attend! 

From my perspective, it's GREAT that I had that opportunity to interact with the company I had questions about.  At present, I'm going to have a really difficult time recommending their services to my client.  At the same time though, what if they are an AMAZING company and Bob Smith was a fluke?  Because I do not normally take things I see at face value, I do intend to do a bit more research into their company, starting with an email about the conversation I had with Bob Smith.  Their reaction, will weigh in my final decision to either recommend their services or not.

That's a lot more than most other business owners would do.  An experience like that would leave most with a really bad taste in their mouth and very little desire to conduct any future business with the offending company.  Additionally, most people aren't going to bother interacting with the company following something like this and will simply write them off as someone they should be leery of.  The end result is that in most cases, the company in question may never know a visitor to their site had a bad experience, unless they review all conversation logs, which hopefully they do.

Breaking the Rules

Troy Hill
The first day of graduate school, my professor in the basics of graphic design, said the whole purpose of learning the fundamentals of graphic design was to enable us to break the rules of graphic design.

That pretty much sums up the entire spectrum of my life and the way I view things.  I'm a non-conformist.  I always have been.  The rules, they don't apply to me.  They never will.

And yet we as a society are completely immersed in rules.  There is a rule for everything!

Don't misunderstand, some rules are there for the protection of us all, and should be respected.  I don't advocate breaking the law. Rules and laws are very different critters.

It's pretty common knowledge that in order to succeed an online business must have social media like blogs and Facebook and Reddit and Twitter and God knows what else.  The simple fact is that's just not true.

Your business doesn't need a social media element.  Would your business benefit from one?  Sure.  Need?  Absolutely not.  Many businesses, like those that cater to other businesses, have very little need for a Facebook presence.  Facebook is a fun place and a place to hang out with your friends and family and because of that, it's just a very poor choice for B2B marketing.

Your efforts would be considerably more rewarded by focusing on a professional social media resource like LinkedIn, which caters more to the businesses than family and friends.

If your focus is B2B and you have a Facebook presence, that's time and energy that is being poorly managed.  Stop that right away!

I don't have a Facebook page for my business.  I have a personal page that is poorly used to keep track of friends and family, but all kidding aside, I die a little inside, each time I am subjected to navigating that horrible interface.

The same thing goes for blogging.  If you have something you want to say and share with the rest of us, something that adds real value and causes us to stop and ponder the way of things, absolutely, add a blog to your site!

But if you want a blog to regurgitate an article that someone else wrote and then sliced up and shifted the words around, so it could then be desiminated out to the public and not get flagged by search engines, why not pass on that?  How much real value could possibly exist in that?

Sure, your prospect could glean something of minor value while reading snippets from your list of 10 things you should never do in business XYZ, but think about the connection that makes, or doesn't make in this case, with your prospective client.

Keep that in mind the next time an agency or a web designer is telling you how much you need to incorporate this or that into your project.  Maybe you do and maybe you don't.

Look for other avenues to increase your growth before you part with your hard-earned capital just because doing so is the status-quo.