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Saturday, February 26, 2011

When customer service help is unwanted.

On Saturday mornings, before the rest of the house wakes up, I do my weekly bills. Just me, a semi-dark house, ample quiet, the first coffee of the day, no interruptions.

So I was surprised and annoyed when my bank popped a proactive customer service chat into my bill paying session with an offer of help to find the financial services solutions I need.

I don’t know what I found more bothersome – the intrusion of someone popping in on me while in the secure section of my financial management site, or that because I was in online bill pay section of the site, it would have been unlikely that they could have assisted me in my self-service. (Unless they were offering to take the gas bill off my hands for this month.)

My reaction was so viscerally negative that the options to accept the chat or close the window didn’t seem enough – I wanted a button that said, “No, and don’t ever ask again.”

I know that customer service groups engage in proactive chat to route people away from customer service lines and to drive revenue from additional service purchases. And I'm aware that my bank knows what I have in my checking account. But I view this encounter like I would my doctor asking me when I'm going to schedule a prostate exam while we're in the health club steam room – I may need the advice, but the time & place is inappropriate. I’ll ask on my own terms, thank you.

Am I overreacting here?

In a successful service encounter, the provider knows when to play their role and when to step back let the customer play theirs. In this case, I feel the provider entered into a part of the encounter where they weren’t welcome. But is this where service encounters enabled by technology are headed? Is this the new service model, and in two years I’m going to be laughing at myself for stodgily refusing someone’s help?

Related, has self-service become pervasive and have we been so well trained as customers that we now get offended when someone offers help? I can’t help but think that if someone offered to pump my gas, I might have a similar reaction.

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