I was working with a colleague – @PdeRobert – a few months back to try and show how social customer care channels have evolved, and we came up with the following graphic:

Foviance Social Customer Care Channels

After revisiting it recently here are some of my observations:

  • The means by which customers communicate with companies has changed.
  • Both a multichannel (ie. phone, online, store) and a multiplatform (ie. blog, microblog, video) world now exist. Think of the Conversation Prism and the role played by smartphones and apps.
  • Options don’t disappear, they continue to sit alongside each other. This results in the rich variety of options that exist, some of which are literally at the end of our fingertips now. We may replace one channel with another, but this is perhaps due to changing the technology we use.
  • Communication has been freed up in both time and space. It is not fixed to a physical object that sits in one location. I can communicate at anytime and from anywhere.
  • Technology has resulted in the possibility of more complex types of communication. Even at this still rudimentary level of evolution, Augmented Reality shows all of us the possibility of something new and different.
  • As we move outwards, so the role of the company fundamentally changes from creator to participant. Historically, the company has created the means by which its customers communicated with them. Without a postal address, telephone number, fax number, email address a customer could not communicate with a company. Over the last few years, the means of self expression has been democratised through social media and smartphones/apps.
  • As we move outwards, so communication moves from a closed transaction between company and customer to an open interaction between people, of which the company is just one part of the conversation (if at all).
  • Communication is no longer a single linear action. Apps empower me to distribute my query or my complaint to a multitude of destinations.

However, what I dwelt on a few nights ago was how channels of communication have over time moved from the physical to the virtual. In a sense, the handshake has been replaced by the ‘@’ symbol. A world in reverse, where we spend an increasing amount of time in our virtual worlds. Our IRL experiences (‘in real life’) re-inforcing, perhaps reminding us, of the nostalgia of a time long since past.

In this virtual world, physical proximity has been replaced by a different type of proximity that promotes, perhaps indulges, spontaneity and impulsiveness. The ‘throw-away experience’, in a sense. The ability to discern becomes paramount for companies.

And in this increasingly virtual world, the desire for a greater sense of being human, the need for a more personal touch, becomes all too powerful. In that brief moment, I want you to feel my pain, my excitement, my anger, my frustration. I don’t want you to simply listen to me. I want you to hear me. To empathise with me.

In this increasingly virtual world, this sense of physical loss is replaced by the need to underpin the empty space with some kind of emotional connection or re-affirmation. I don’t just want you to listen to me or hear me, I want you to remember me. I want you to acknowledge, in that brief moment, that I exist, that my problem is important.

And all too often I will be left disappointed. But that, perhaps, is the trade-off in our increasingly virtual world.

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Added 25th February 2011: I posted the following question on Quora on 14th February 2011: As methods of communication become more virtual will ‘in real life’ experiences take on more importance? I received a great answer from Dan Lovejoy, with a couple of links:

YouTube video he created: Real/Life

Media Naturalness Theory (Wikipedia)

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