First, a short story…
Being a heavy Skype user, I got a mostly awesome present for my birthday – a Skype-phone. It is a piece of gadget that you connect to your computer and get a cordless phone that can make Skype calls. Nice, isn’t it? The only thing is that my computer is getting a bit crazy with the new toy. I set it up as prescribed, and everything seems to be OK, but every time a call connects (doesn’t matter if it’s incoming or outgoing call) all the settings change and instead of using the handset, Skype uses my computer’s speakers.
So, i contacted Skype and asked them what to do. I got an email saying more or less “check that you have Skype installed and the phone connected”. When i asked for more specific guidance the answer was that they do not support devices that are working with Skype, even though the one i got bears their logo. Further attempts to get an answer resulted in very polite emails basically saying that i am an idiot and probably still did not plug in the phone.
So, i contacted GE that produced the phone. A very polite lady spent about 10 minutes with me making sure that i did get the phone plugged in and that i push the right button to answer the call. When that turned out OK, she tried to read, what i imagine were possible scenarios from her manual. When my case didn’t fit the 4 scenarios she had, the ultimate suggestion was to boot the phone (wow!). The good thing is that i got a case number :)
Now to the questions rising from this story (in addition to how i make the phone work). We hear a lot about commoditization of various aspects of our life – from what we eat, wear, learn, watch, hear and eventually to how we treat people and whom we vote for. It seems to me that the story above is yet another example of this commoditization, but this time of technical support. In both cases, Skype and GE offer a technical support package. There are certain cases of technical difficulties that they are ready to resolve and for those there are prepacked answers. Basically, everything i was told in the costumer service in both places is available online in the FAQ sections. In other words, there is no need for human being on the other side to read the publicly available information for me or copy it into an email. Similarly to a grocery shop where i can cruse between the rows of products and pick up the package that seems to answer my needs, i can browse the websites of Skype and GE to find the FAQ package that seems to answer my question. So what is the value of having a person on the other side of an email or the phone line?
Probably this is a function of your level of familiarity with the technology. The support packages offered by both Skype and GE are aimed at answering pretty basic and standard questions. Probably a person who would have this kind of a question would appreciate another person pointing out these solutions for them. But then, what happens if your problem (like apparently mine) is falling out of the standard case or is more complex than what the basic package covers? Isn’t that the case where you would find a person answering your questions helpful? Probably yes, but apparently skilled human resources are too costly, so the support centers are relying on less skilled workers who can only follow the manual, but are not really familiar with technology they are providing support for.
All this is not new. People have written about it and discussed the changes our societies are going through. However i think it is interesting to see how commoditization is infiltrating service industry as well. We are fed with an illusion of personal service and with dreams of 2.0 fully customized web. At the end of the day it turns out that we are still facing prepacked services. There maybe more packages out there, but the customization goes as far as the standard packages allow. You can’t get neither a really personalized product, nor even a personalized service.