I recently wrote a guest post on Zendesk‘s blog (Zengage) – ‘What does support in ‘real time’ actually mean?‘ – which I have reproduced below.

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What does support in ‘real time’ actually mean?

Is ‘customer time’ the same as ‘company time’? If not, then the starting point of service expectation is already a compromise.

Technology has condensed, reduced, and minimized the time we wait for an acknowledgement, resolution, or response from a company’s support team. And while the notion of receiving support in ‘real time’ is not that new, (whenever you are in a store and ask for help, it’s happening in real time) the fact that it is hard-wired in to social media has made given the concept of real-time support new meaning.

The possibility exists that a company can respond to a question or resolve a complaint within moments of picking it up via Twitter. But this possibility already exists via email, the telephone, or simply going in to a shop to speak to the manager. If this is the case, where does the value of real time actually lie? Where does the value of social media lie? Where do they intersect?

Is the value of real time realized when it feeds in to the context and behaviour of the customer at a particular moment in time?

So many ways to complain

One hundred years ago if a customer had a complaint they would go into a store and get it resolved there. Customer service was personal, direct, and simple. The experience was underpinned by a physical proximity between the store owner and the customer; the complaint and the resolution. The experience took place in real-time.

Today, if I have a complaint I can still go into a store, but the likelihood is that I will do at least one or more or all of the following instead: email, phone, find the answer myself by combing a website’s help section or FAQs’, tweet about it as it is happening, complain about it on a company’s Facebook Wall, review the company on Pownum, tell my friends and followers, and so on and so forth. I look to my friends and followers. I look to Google and YouTube. I look to forums. I simply look elsewhere.

So what’s this say about our concept of time or real time? Has it changed significantly between now and 100 years ago? What are my expectations of the role of time? How does time relate to context? Has time become more public, more empathetic, more conciliatory or more inflammatory?

Have I become more spontaneous, more impulsive, more distracted, more impatient of time?

How quick is quick?

And what has been the role of smartphones and apps in changing our expectations of customer service as it relates to time? Because I can ask a question or complain whenever and wherever I am (network coverage permitting) what do I expect in return from a company? A quick acknowledgement, or a quick resolution? Within minutes, hours or days? 9-to-5 or 24/7?

And from a company perspective, do I feel the pressure of having to respond quickly? What is quick? Who defines quick? Customer or company? Friends, followers, or detractors?

Just because I can identify the question or complaint moments after it has been tweeted, do I need to answer or resolve it moments later? Will a simple acknowledgement suffice? Will a simple acknowledgement become like an automated email, or perhaps one step above it at any rate? What happens if another customer acknowledges it on my behalf? Or even answers the question or complaint on my behalf? Oh, they’re already doing that, I see!?

If I am a detractor does time seem longer? If I am waiting for my delivery to arrive, does the wait seem interminable? If I am waiting in a queue does time seem to slow down?

I was waiting in a long queue in the run up to Christmas to pick up something that I had bought online. The queue was long and becoming increasingly chaotic, time seemed to slow down, and I kept looking at my watch, seconds seemed like minutes. I was trying to estimate how long it would take me to get to the front of the queue. Then someone from the store brought around mince pies and apologised for the wait. Suddenly, the wait didn’t seem so long, the queue so chaotic, and the minutes returned to seconds.

Perhaps in the end, time is about understanding the context and managing the behavior.

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