Anti-Social Computing?

We’ve been talking a lot in our research about the importance of “Humanizing the Digital Experience” – that is, using ever more and more prevalent digital channels to extend the personal connection marketers have to their customers.  And yet, I feel like most marketers actually need to focus on humanizing the human experience first.  In fact, I would argue that advances in technology are actually limiting the inter-personal interactions we have with human representations of a given brand.  Let me explain what I mean.

This past Sunday night I had to travel to Washington DC for an 8am meeting start.  Already feeling sorry for myself for having to travel on a Sunday afternoon, I at least booked a Sheraton Hotel (love those Starwood points) and made plans to meet a friend for dinner.  I had a very easy time booking my reservation online and even got a customized confirmation email welcoming me back to the Sheraton College Park.  So the digital part of my experience actually went very well.  However, when I arrived at the hotel and explained to the woman at the front desk that I had trouble finding the hotel from her directions (my cab driver called her from the road), she argued with me!  Argued!  Now, the point of my raising the “I just got lost” issue was not to try to prove her wrong.  Obviously I don’t live in DC, so I’m sure I don’t know the best way to get to the hotel.  My point was to make encourage her to double check their directions just in case I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with them.  What should have been a 20 second piece of customer feedback turned into a 5 minute argument which delayed my check in, sullied the warm and fuzzies created by my easy online reservations process, and made me feel annoyingly patronized by the know-it-all behind the desk.

I raise this point not just to rant (J ), but also because I think it demonstrates a very dire disconnect between service and marketing that is actually only worsening as consumers become more and more reliant on technology.  In fact while the world focuses on the revolution of social computing, my colleague in Amsterdam, Paul Jackson, points out another trend at work that he calls “anti-social computing."  You know, the growing trend of people listening to ipods instead of interacting with anyone on the bus or sidewalk, taking cell phone calls in the middle of an in-person conversation, and now maybe the worst offense yet – delivering lackluster customer service because 1) marginal digital experiences have de-sensitized us all to expect anything better, 2) customer service professionals presume digital experiences (like my pleasant email from Starwood) will “compensate” for bad in-person service, or 3) we are all so used to interfacing with technology instead of people that we know longer know how to relate to each other. 

Am I the only one out there feeling this way?  I love technology, but I'd definitely love a resurrection of personal communication.

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