Monday, March 06, 2006

Businesses embracing technology must help customers embrace them too

When I am in Bangalore, I rarely go to banks. The reason being everything can be done either online or throughout one of the hundreds of ATMs scattered across the cityscape. Be it a Demand Draft, you could order it for free online. Be it cash withdrawal or deposit, you can make use of the ATMs.

However circumstances forced me to visit a ICICI bank branch last Saturday. I was in for a pleasant surprise. The same branch that I had visited almost two and a half years back had changed its look so drastically that it made me wonder for a minute if I had missed the bank and landed at a different one. As against the 2 counters in the past, it housed 20 counters. No old aged accountants manning these counters. All smart 20 something youth who were awash with the enthusiasm that comes over you when heaped with customer facing responsibilities.

The center of the room carried a vending machine ( devoid of all helpful instructions )that had an array of shiny silver knobs, each having a particular service offered by the branch. The first one said, 'Cash Withdrawal below 50000 rupees', the second one said, 'Cash deposit below 50000 rupees',the third one, 'Cash Withdrawal above 50000 rupees' and so it went on. At the bottom were three more silver buttons the first of which said, 'Customer', and the other two buttons mentioned something else that I did care much about as I had no use for them.

Now the way it worked was, you pick a service from the top 20 and then press the appropriate button out of the bottom three. I pressed Button 2 followed by the Customer Button. It issued me a ticket that was numbered CD184. I had to wait till one of the counters called my number. Now remember, that all this was guess work by me. I sat down at the center of the hall which had seats for customers.

An elderly guy with a sharp rustic look sat down to my right. To my left was young woman in her thirties, I guess. After about ten minutes, I realised that the guy to my right had no vending ticket with him. Every time a number was announced, he used to throw a confused glance in all possible directions. I asked him, "Sir, you need to take a ticket at the vending machine". He feigned outright ignorance. I took him to the machine and we came back with an ticket for him that served the service he was anticipating from the bank.

Five minutes later, the woman to my left launched a tirade on how clumsy the whole system had become. She groaned, "Can't they make it a bit simpler?". It took me a lot of energy, explaining her the benefits of the system (the fervent-techie that I am). She was all hammer and tongs at the system. She mentioned the lack of any instructions at the vending machine. Even the elderly guy pitched in insisting one the need for instruction in the local language for the likes of him. I had to cut short my conversation when my number was announced. However, I left the bank only after I had dropped a slip with the following into their suggestion box.

a. Instructions at the ticket vending machine will stop driving out customers
b. Instructions in the local language will benefit the non-English speaking customers.

Hope that stirs them into action.

Introducing new technology is always fraught with risks. Unless the technology is highly intuitive to human cognizance, you need to provide them simple straight forward instructions that assist them. A lesson, I suppose for all technology freak managers and managements that pursue automating without a thought for the hapless customers.

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