Seeing Eye-to-Eye: The Power of Telepresence
I listened recently to a lament from a fellow business traveler bumped from his flight and trying to figure out his next steps. His choices were to wait in a long queue with other frustrated passengers to deal directly with an agent—or to use a customer service number to negotiate his options with a call center.
What he really wanted was an immediate human connection—the option of a face to face communication that could provide empathy, understanding and reassurance that a long, stressful trip would end soon.
The need for this kind of human connection is fundamental to customer service. And telepresence can be a powerful and cost effective tool for just such communications.
I know one travel agency that provides customers a variety of options when it comes to planning and booking travel. If you visit the agency in person you have three options. At the self-help end of the spectrum, you can use a bank of iPads to select and buy your ticket; if you need more help, you can proceed to a manned service desk for one on one customer service (for a surcharge).
But there’s a third, increasingly popular option: stepping up to a telepresence kiosk, where you can also work one on one with an agent—at no charge. That’s what our frustrated traveler really needed—immediate contact with expert, well-informed help who look them in the eye, listen to their unique predicament and exchange more than just facts.
Telepresence kiosks offer some other advantages. Rather than staffing multiple locations, a telepresence service can be delivered 24/7 by accessing centralized service centers. They also can provide more service where and when it might be needed, like when an airline is having to cancel flights. This too can make for better customer service.
Clearly, there’s money to be made from this customer service option in almost any service industry: banking and finance, retail, and healthcare. Not just revenue from the immediate transaction but potential future revenue from the kind of service that increases customer loyalty.
Think about the power of telepresence in the public sector as well.
The British Red Cross is using a telepresence service, Facelook, to provide senior citizens with an interactive, face-to-face connection with loved ones. These interactions can have a huge impact on decreasing feelings of helplessness and loneliness.
Beyond well-being, doctors are using Facelook for remote check-ups to determine whether patients are taking their medications correctly. Doctors and Red Cross home support personnel see (and hear) cues like facial expressions, body language, not to mention seeing the actual medicines—so they can catch problems best addressed sooner rather than later. Best for the patient and best for the way our healthcare dollars are spent.
Such a system could be a key component of a more effective way of providing ongoing healthcare to a less mobile, aging population.
Whether the setting is a place of business or in the public sector, telepresence can deliver more efficiently face to face communications where and when they are desired—along with the visual nuance and human touch that can more fully satisfy the consumer.