Software Services

by admin on August 13, 2011

I just had a pleasant conversation with Naftalik Chepkoit. After moving to the United States from Kenya, Naftalik studied information sciences before going into finance. He then worked as a retail manager for three years. “People don’t appreciate how flexible things are here. You can work as a doctor, then go back to school and become an engineer.” He had a cheerful demeanor and seemed genuinely curious about how I liked New York, what I was studying, and where I was headed in life.

I was running late as usual, and had to lock-up my parent’s house since they had left for California the day before. When I brought my bag to the cab, I told Naftalik I’d be right back, but then spent another 15 minutes in the house downloading my dad’s photos to my external hard drive so he could show us his slideshow. I could see Naftalik from the window, standing outside the car. I was ready for him to scowl at me or curse me in silence as I jogged down the driveway. I apologized, and was surprised when he said sincerely, “it’s no problem.”

Despite the woe about the loss of jobs to mechanization, computers could replace many more of the services that are still provided by people, especially in direct to consumer interactions. Take, for example, the checkout at the supermarket. There’s no special task that requires a human in the process of scanning your groceries; hence, the self-service check out.

The ability to perfect the multitude of possible scenarios in any given service interaction, through software engineering, and then scale that solution to locations throughout the country makes out-sourcing to computers even more sensible. If you think having a computer drive a cab is outlandish, see Google car. Regardless, companies still rely on people to fill these tasks and act as the ambassadors for their brand. Unlike software, people are unpredictable, emotional, and much harder to program. They’re also harder to observe—a program you can constantly monitor and rely on to continue to react exactly how you ask it to; not so with humans, especially humans interacting with other humans. One day, your taxi driver might be friendly and respectful, but if his wife cheats on him, or a customer is exceptionally rude, he may not behave the same in the future.

I’m not advocating that computers take over more jobs. But it’s fascinating how I continue to have highly variable experiences with brands depending on the individual ambassador I encounter on any given day. How do you reliably hire and train for the kinds of characteristics that can make or break a service experience?

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