John Q. Public, Customer Service, and Information Management

I recently had some customer service issues with a few telecommunication companies. When calling the 800 numbers and speaking with reps about my issues (and there were quite a few), one thing kept frustrating me: receiving different answers to my questions from different people from the same company.

In large part, this stemmed from the fact that different customer service reps at each company had access to different data. Oh, how I loved the lines “I don’t have access to that information” and “That’s not my department, sir.” I don’t attribute this to issues related to permissions, rights, or security. Rather, I strongly suspect that each department kept its data in different systems. Because these systems didn’t talk to each other (or receive real-time updates from each other via some type of ETL tool), each rep would tell me the “current” information in his/her own system.

Now, it’s easy for me—and people like me—to view the world exclusively through our normal lenses. In my case, I’m a technology guy. People like me know more than a little about information management (IM). We understand things that some people don’t. (Of course, we often don’t understand things that we probably should, but that’s a conversation over beers sometime.)

IM types understand all too well why many large organizations struggle keeping tabs on their data. The usual suspects are:

  • An eye chart of disparate systems
  • End user inattention to detail
  • Organizational charts nowhere near transparent
  • Bifurcation of responsibilities among different departments
  • An inattention to data quality and data governance

John Q. Public

To most people reading this post (and similar posts on data- and management-oriented sites), this is old hat. But consider John Q. Public. He is no data management expert. He doesn’t know the difference between a house key and a primary key. He probably wouldn’t be able to define data quality or referential integrity.

But here’s the rub: It doesn’t matter.

John’s no idiot. He knows bad customer service when he experiences it. He may not know why a company is giving him the runaround, but he sure as heck doesn’t like it. What’s more, he now has new options for expressing his disgruntlement.

The social web has shifted the pendulum to the customer, empowering people in ways simply not possible even fifteen years ago. As Maria Ogneva writes, this “social customer” is not terribly tolerant of old school customer service practices. They don’t bite their tongue when things go awry. Ogneva writes:

With easy publishing tools, creating content is easy. With social sharing tools, it’s even easier to share this content with as many people as are in your network, and with platforms as good for discovery as Twitter is, you can even expose your message to anyone tracking that topic. So now, this same customer, who’s had opinions of her own about any and every product she’s ever used, can publish and share her thoughts with a mouse click. And if you are looking for information on that product, you can find what other people have already said.

Simon Says

Today customers have at their disposal many tools to communicate their happiness—or lack thereof. This has enormous implications for data management. Small businesses get a bit of a free pass here because they often know their customers via personal relationship. By contrast, few corporations can make that claim. When it comes to more effectively managing their data, large organizations need to get their acts together. The risk of not doing so: losing current and future customers.


What do you think?

Category: Enterprise Data Management, Information Management