TUB Talks

Outsourcing the work to the customer – The infallible business model (IBM)

TUB stands for Technology User Blues, as well as the kind of thoughts that surface in the relaxing womb of a bathtub or hot tub.

TUB Talks take to the road! This morning I’m at the very 21st Century HQ of a famous telecoms provider – all steel and glass pyramids. My interview this bright spring morning is with Laurie Schwartz, the Commercial Director and self-labelled ‘Architect of Change’. I’m told to draw breath and lean in when he’s on a roll with his latest vision/ mission/ purpose/ universe-denting idea. Today it’s very clear what’s on his mind. Taping begins . . .

Me What’s on your mind?

LS Funny you should ask that, because what’s been preoccupying me 24/7 In recent years is . . . well, it’s a game changer!

Me What is it?

LS Using the power of technology to outsource most of the heavy loading to the customer – effectively they serve themselves – while we slash headcount (it’s all online) and . . . er . . . hike up our prices. I call it the IBM approach.

Me IBM? International Business Machines?

LS No. The Infallible Business Model. It’s an unstoppable juggernaut that delivers on the true promise of technology.

Me Which is?

LS Economy, of course! Economy of effort, economy of cost base, the economy of hitherto unimagined profit margins – going forward.

Me What about the power of the internet to enable social change, level inequality, and fight injustice in the world order? To improve knowledge and co-operation between global digital citizens, and . . .

LS Forgive me for interrupting, but you have a very rose-tinted view of what is essentially the most powerful economic weapon ever forged. The internet is basically about two things – Commerce and Cats. And we operate only in the Commercial space.

Me Have you seen that YouTube video about the cat detective?

LS Yes, my kids have introduced me to it. Very amusing. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss.

Me No, of course. But won’t your strategy alienate your customers And what do you mean by ‘outsourcing’ the work to them?

LS Customers? Oh, yes, I’m sorry – my last message was the one we use for stakeholders. Customers. . . we love them, and deeply appreciate the work they do for us. Filling in all those boxes online, uploading documents, downloading forms, trying to remember their own passwords (we keep them on their toes by invalidating the old ones monthly). All of that, and more. 

IBM: the customer is really working for us, and we charge them for the privilege! It’s magic!!

Me . . . while at the same time they think it’s cheaper because it’s online.

LS Precisely! But at the end of the day, you know they’re actually enjoying it. All everyone wants is a transaction - click, type, drag, and send, that’s it –and none of this ‘How’s little Johnny?’ ‘Did you have a nice holiday in Tenerife?’ bullshit. That’s why internally we don’t call them ‘customers’ any more – that’s so 20th Century – they are ‘transactors’, or just plain ‘users’. Though I think ‘transactors’ is more respectful.

Me Right, Mr Schultz. I’m beginning to grasp the audacity of your vision. But what if your customers are not happy online, and would like to speak to a human being?

LS What? On the telephone?

Me Er . . . Yes.

LS You must understand, Mr Barlow, that a company’s telephone number is its most heavily guarded industrial secret. And use of this outmoded technology is a great threat to both the transactional model our shareholders are so invested in, and the very fabric of our cost base. Why can’t they use FAQs like anyone else? What kind of Luddites are they?

Me What I do know is that I spent half an hour searching online for your customer contact number, and was only able to obtain it after filling in two pages of an online query form. By then it was out of hours. Why don’t you want to speak to your customers?

LS I’m afraid this interview is terminated. Our Transactors never complain about this.

Me Could that be because your traffic to them is all in a donotreply format? That they are busy people who don’t have the time to do your clerical work for you on their PCs, and might sometimes want to speak to a person before they spend more money with you?

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LS I’m sorry, but that’s it. Finito. Done. Over. You will be hearing from our lawyers.

(Sound of tape recorder being stopped by Mr Schultz.)

note Please do not spread this interview around or there will be lawyers! But I thought you’d better understand how his thinking is going before you make the same mistakes.