Customer Centric v Operationally Efficient

Two months back I had written about automated e-mail responses for service tickets versus custom messages. The argument was automated = conversing with a robot while custom = conversing with a human. Human conversations allow the latitude of slipping in greater related information than robotic messages do and hence are more effective in establishing that emotional bridge with the customer.

I was pleasantly surprised when I read what Joel Spolsky practices at Fog Creek. Here is an excerpt from his post at

For example, we usually reply to a customer complaint with an e-mail that includes a discount offer on the purchase of another product. But rather than automate the message, we have opted instead to create a written template that staff members have to manually cut and paste into the body of an e-mail.

They are encouraged to edit the text to suit the circumstances, which forces them to take a little extra time and think a little bit harder about whether they’re saying the exact right thing to this particular customer. They can make the text more familiar if they know the person well or more apologetic if we really screwed up. They can also take the coupon code from the template and process the discount for the customer right away, if they are talking on the phone or over IM.

The objective is to make our customers feel as if they are having a real human interaction — that they are not just dealing with cogs in a big machine. As a smaller entrepreneurial company, we have this luxury, and we exploit it.

A large company may not have the “luxury” that Spolsky speaks about and I sometimes wonder why. The “large company” possibly made a wrong choice when faced with “operational efficiency” and “customer centricity”.

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