As a customer; I have to laugh when companies send me Emailcorrespondence where the first thing they say is “please do not reply to this message.” What this means to me is “we have something to tell you but we couldn’t give a s#@* about what you have to say to us.”  Please go through the more complicated channels like calling and waiting an hour on the phone because, we know it is too hard and you will give up. . 

Email is clearly a useful tool for interaction and I can’t understand why a company would not want to converse with their customers in this medium. It is less expensive than having live phone support and allows for “asynchronous” communications. Granted, there is a written record but that should be a good thing for most companies (legal that is). I have asked a few folks about this issue; my favorite answer (for not allowing Email replies) was that they fear too much junk Email. Welcome to our world.

It is frustrating for me not to have an easy way to respond to these Emails so I have a simple way to avoid the frustration – I just don’t read them. With filtering, I can just declare them SPAM and the security software takes care of the rest. No more issues. No more frustration.  Problem solved. 

There is a great promise of efficiency with new electronic forms of communication like Email and paperless delivery of information. I believe the risk we face today is that companies are corrupting and biasing the value of technology - making it less effective for the consumer (me) while making it easier for them. That is really sad.

Have you ever noticed that, because automated Email is essentially "free" to send - that companies now can push reminders out with an incredible ferocity. In the old days, if I was late turning in my expenses, I might get a two week grace period. Today, I will get an email maybe 1 minute after the time runs out and will continue to get them usually daily – until I comply.  This is great if you are trying to insure compliance but probably not that productive if you are on the receiving end.

Let’s take another simple example. I have signed up for the so-called “paperless delivery” for billing/statements with a few companies. So far, even with low expectations, the experience has been horrific. I don’t think I set my sights very high; I expected to get a copy of my bill/statement in an Email instead of my postal mail (like in a simple PDF).  I had no hope that I would receive a spreadsheet where I could filter or sort information. I know it was not even remotely possible that I could link bills from month to month to look at trends. 

So far, the experience has not only been underwhelming, by my analysis, it is significantly LESS EFFICIENT (for me that is) than the old mail process. All of the places where I have signed up for paperless “delivery” now send me an Email to let me know that I have a bill. Go figure; even I realize that almost every 30 (or 31) days, I will get a bill. I’m sorry but I just am not ready to go “wow, what a revolution – look honey I got this Email that says we have a new bill from the phone company. This technology is amazing!”

Really folks, if I wanted that, I could write a script to send myself a mail each month saying “pay your phone bill” – not exactly a cure for cancer here. 

Maybe what I could use is the actual bill!

Instead, I have the “opportunity” to log into their web site, remember another password, and navigate their site through their advertising, all to find my statement (which might not even be easy to print or download). Most of these bill reminder Emails don’t even provide a direct link to my bill or pre-enter my username; they point to their home page! This is arcane. What used to take 10 seconds (opening an envelope) now takes 10 minutes – what a nightmare – all just to find out that I owe the phone company the exact same amount as last month. 

Technology holds great promise to make our lives easier but we all need to also insure that we evaluate these innovations to insure that they actually have value.

I can’t believe I am saying this as a futurist but I am going back to paper. I am going back until folks can build a process that makes it easier for me as opposed to easier for them.

Mark...

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