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In the not-too-distant future, virtually everyone will be technologically literate. As always, we’ll teach our kids the Three Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic), but we’ll also add The C (coding).

However, we’re not there yet. My mom, for one, is (amusingly) illiterate when it comes to technology—she likes to go ‘into’ the internet, for example. She also gets frustrated when she gets in over her head (say, checking voicemail on her flip-phone, believe it or not). For her and others like her, we can’t force the issue.

Technology is enabling and empowering, but it changes so fast that it’s hard for tech geeks to keep up, let alone my mother. Forcing self-service technology onto customers, therefore, leaves some customers behind. We have to provide a way for them to opt out.

Technology Anxiety, Technology Trust

In the Impact of Forced Use on Customer Adoption of Self-Service Technologies, researcher Shunzhong Liu of Central China Normal University’s School of Economics discusses “the relationship among forced use, technology anxiety, technology trust [and] customer satisfaction” in a “self-service technology setting.”

From Liu’s study—

In response to increases in labor cost and innovation in technology, many firms are incorporating new technology into their service delivery process. Hence, the service is becoming increasingly technological in nature with a wide array of self-service technologies (SSTs) used as part of routine service delivery options.

A lot of people love self-service (me, included). All we need is the internet or an automated voice system. In, out, done, onto the next thing in our lives without having to wait in a call queue or deflect upsell efforts from a customer service rep. Self-service is actually transforming customer service.

But we’re comfortable with technology. For us, the internet or an IVR is going to be faster and easier, so that’s what we choose. However, for someone like my mother, simple interactions with a technology can cause anxiety. For her and plenty of others, an option to talk to a live agent—a way out—is a necessary security blanket.

According to Liu, it comes down to technology anxiety versus technology trust—

First, forced use is positively associated with technology anxiety…Second, forced use is negatively related to technology trust….Third, increased technology anxiety leads to lower technology trust…Fourth, the effect of technology anxiety on customers’ satisfaction with SSTs is negative and significant, indicating that customer satisfaction significantly decreases when technology anxiety increases.

Control

It’s partly about control. Self-service means control, which is why so many of us like it and one reason why it’s growing so quickly. Today’s customer service is often more about enabling customers to do things themselves rather than doing it for them. But control hinges upon comfort with a technology in a self-service setting.

Simply put, control can result in technology trust and a positive experience for most customers, but lack of control can create technology anxiety and a negative experience for some customers.

For example, an IVR system set up to make it easier on the organization and not the customer (i.e., it’s difficult to use, there’s no opt out, et cetera) can create anxiety among some customers and leave them with a bad taste in their mouth.

Conversely, an IVR system set up for the customer (i.e., it’s easy to use, it provides an opt out, et cetera) can create technology trust, which enhances the customer experience and leaves customers with a good feeling about the organization.

The Opt-Out Button

Well-implemented technology can enhance our lives, but poorly implemented technology can make it more difficult, especially for those of us who didn’t grow up with video games, personal computers, mobile phones and the rest.

To accommodate every customer, we have to implement technology with the customer foremost in our minds. But we also have to provide them with a way to opt out, in case they’re not ready for it yet.

About 

Director of Communications at Plum Voice with 20 years' experience writing primarily about technology and customer service, the customer experience, voice of the customer, market research and communications. I write from a humanistic viewpoint and feel that technologies should enhance our lives, not hinder them.

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