Digital is the anchor channel in service relationships

Alex Wright

4 minute read

Imagine you had to hand-write a letter to a customer.

It would be a time-consuming and yesteryear thing to do. But it could be very powerful - especially if you have access to a live record of all past contact and interactions with that customer (their preferences, purchase history etc) when you write it. You could mix the intimate dress-code of a handwritten letter, with the intimate substance of accurate, relevant and up-to-the minute knowledge about the customer.

With digital as the anchor channel in a service relationship, this intimacy is possible in every customer contact. And customers expect it.

We’ve all phoned a call centre while looking at our account online, expecting the agent to see the same information that we can. We expect the account to reflect what we did online 2 seconds ago, what we did in store this morning, and what we told the agent last time we called.

Organisations will always want to serve customers through service agents. Some services, from medical procedures to hairdressing, require human delivery (currently). Others, from private investment management to child counselling, are richer for it.

But the value of these “non-digital” interactions for the customer can be massively improved if the customer history is available at-hand to the organisation’s agent. And the digital experience for the customer can be vastly improved if it is informed by what the organisation’s agent has learned through their customer contact.

Digital is the glue that brings the single up-to-date view of the customer together, and reflects the sum relationship between customer and organisation. It is the foundation for customer intimacy at scale, across channels, in person or at distance.

When this glue is missing or badly applied in a large organisation, the complexity of the organisation becomes visible to the customer, and their experience fragments and becomes more painful.

We’ve all experienced this too: call centres where you have to explain your account position to each agent as you’re passed from department to department; the bank that continues to send your credit card statement to your old address, even though the same bank sends your current account statement to your new address; the loyalty card that doesn’t work in this region because of a different system... It is enormously hard to make organisational complexities invisible to the customer, and simplify their experience and interactions.

If you call (or mail or message) Apple with a fault to report, you get an issue number which is a link to a webpage which shows the current status of your issue, the next expected action (and who will take it, and when) and a history of all contact. The agent who first answers your call is assigned to own your issue throughout. They’re empowered to fix it - replace faulty things, refund money, arrange a repair in a store, etc. If their shift ends and they have to hand off to someone else, they introduce you to them (and make them the issue owner), and explain when they’ll be back. The new agent can manage your fault page (which you can contribute to as well). If you go into an Apple Store or authorised repair centre - they can see and contribute to the page too. Until the issue is closed (by you or by the agent who owns the issue).

That page is the single source of truth for your fault. It is a fine example of digital working as the anchor channel in a service relationship - and simplifying organisational complexity for the customer.

And if the agent involved did handwrite you a letter along the way - it’d be a great one.

Alex Wright

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