Forms-based Applications & the Web 2.0 ‘Human’ Factor

I often wonder if the exasperation some of us experience with call centres, utility companies and even our banks is mainly caused by poorly provisioned IT systems, or poor service caused by operator errors.My own experience with my car insurance company make quite a tale – but it’s a story with a happy ending where technology came to my rescue in the one of the coolest ways I’ve ever experienced.

I often wonder if the exasperation some of us experience with call centres, utility companies and even our banks is mainly caused by poorly provisioned IT systems, or poor service caused by operator errors.

My own experience with my car insurance company make quite a tale – but it’s a story with a happy ending where technology came to my rescue in the one of the coolest ways I’ve ever experienced.

In short, Norwich Union (soon to be renamed Aviva) and I have a very close relationship after the hours (plural) I spent on the phone to Bangalore (soon to be renamed Bengaluru) getting my wife (recently renamed Mrs Bridgwater) some insurance organised.

Incompatibilities between different insurer’s systems can make this task a struggle. Some have a field to tick for maximum no claims being four years and some for five. It’s worse still if you are American and you have to try and explain what a GEICO ‘Good Driver’ discount is.

When the software is built for these call centre operatives to use – do the companies open up and look at the systems of their competitors? I would hazard a guess not - right? Forms-based applications that must align across different competitors within the same industry could and should benefit hugely if they had better sight of each other – right?

Suffice it to say that I was pulling my hair out (yes I have a bit left) and started putting out emails and Tweets to say how angry I was. Now, here’s the good bit…

Norwich Union employs an “online customer experience consultant” person for the UK. Let’s call her Becca Sibley (as that’s her name) – who was introduced to me via a diligent PR contact who had been watching me rant.

Becca not only fixed the problems immediately, she also provided me with compensation for my troubles and turned me from a very angry customer into an extremely happy one.

Is this where social networking applications can really start to plug into our daily interaction with seemingly hidden enterprise apps housed within the data vaults of the companies that we have to depend upon for essential services? People are talking every now about Twitter going mainstream in 2009. So was Becca’s service a perfect example of how we’ll now use these technologies.

Here’s my argument: build a behemoth of a corporate IT application stack, slap on a few databases, bring in web interfaces and associated services, promise to deliver ROI at xyz level and it’ll never go wrong, ever.

Well, given the human factor (and I’m not going to blame the Indian call centres as they tried hard with my slightly more complex than normal requests) – things are always going to go wrong now and again.

Seeking an opinion on this subject I spoke directly to a chap called Tilman Eberle who is VP of communications at a company called Doodle. Tilman told me, “One of the big reasons web 2.0 tools grow virally, so quickly, is that they can put the ‘human’ back into customer relations. They give companies a face and real people start interacting, not just systems. For instance, if you have a problem with your Twitter account, you can send a customer service request to an actual Twitter person by simply @’ing them. This type of real-time, interactive, 2.0-based customer relations could become more popular.”

So if enterprise apps need to serve customers effectively, perhaps they need a ‘human’ Internet-driven front end like Becca to pick up on anomalies and ensure the company’s reputation remains intact.

Is this one for your project manager or system architect to think about in 2009 and beyond? I hope so.