[Web Informant] 9 June 2009: Faster response times and Google's Wave

David Strom david at strom.com
Tue Jun 9 17:15:41 EDT 2009

Web Informant, 9 June 2009: Faster response times and Google's Wave

For those of you that feel good about yourselves because you are
IM'ing and Tweeting, your online life is about to get a whole more
complicated thanks to Google. More on that in a moment, first let me
set the stage.

I remember back in the day when many of us first got on email and we
tried to do everything in it. When we tried to completely replace
real-time phone calls and in-person meetings, it was an abject
failure: you still needed that give-and-take. And many corporations
that put up email support or customer response inboxes quickly found
out that they needed to do more than just assign the inbound messages
to a staffer: they actually had to respond with a meaningful answer. I
remember an article that I wrote back in 2000 where I sent out a test
email inquiry to 13 financial services firms and timed how long it
took before I got a response. Some sent out automated responses
quickly and followed with a more meaningful reply within an hour, some
did worse. Ironically, one site where it was hard to find an email
address now has one of the currently best self-service Web sites,

Then came the era of Instant Messaging, and suddenly we didn't have to
worry about email response times because we could connect with someone
in real time. Some firms got into IM in a big way, particularly to
connect remote work teams. And parents found out that IM was another
tool in their arsenal of trying to track down their teens' whereabouts
in those dicey after-school hours.

Lately everyone is talking Twitter, and that makes IM seem slow.
Twitter and I are still getting used to each other, and I am still not
sure that it will be tremendously useful to me in the long run. But it
is sure fun to experiment with, and thanks to Bank of America being on
it, I managed to save myself a bundle in overdraft fees about a month
ago. But that is a story for another time. What I have found is that I
am sending and receiving fewer IMs these days.

Some of the more interesting experiments in the Twittersphere have to
do with aggregating Tweets from a variety of different sources. Take a
look at scienceinthetriangle.org, a news site that reports on tech
events in the Raleigh-Durham area that is the labor of love of a bunch
of volunteers but is probably the best place to go to get
up-to-the-minute news and blog posts in the area.

And then there is a new protocol and product coming from Google by way
of Sydney Australia called Wave. It was announced a few weeks ago, and
while I am still analyzing it, I can tell you that the near-instant
response times that we get from our IMs isn't going to be fast enough.
What Wave does is similar to a product called Etherpad.com that allows
for real-time collaborative composition of documents, but oh so much
more. You can thread your conversations, add wiki-like tools to do
joint editing, and add email notification and Twitter-like status
streams all in a neat bundle. The 80-minute demo video is definitely
worth watching, at least the first third, here:

But before you abandon all hope of every staying current with the
latest Internet fad, let's just go back to first principles for a
moment and think about what your expectations of customer response
times should be these days, and whether your company is coming
anywhere close to fulfilling these expectations. With some people
(such as my condo board), I have no expectations that I will get a
timely response – that is just the type of folks that they are or they
just aren't that service-oriented. With others, such as my Tweets to
Bank of America, a few hours to reply was better than anything that I
have gotten from them. Previously, I had to wait on hold or in line
down at my very busy local branch for at least 30 minutes. For other
businesses, overnight is still a reasonable expectation.

What I am saying here is that before you scrap yet another response
system, take a few days to conduct a census of your customer-facing
staff and see exactly what they are delivering now. And maybe try to
improve the human side of your response systems that have nothing to
do with any underlying technology.

I have no doubt that Wave represents a new way of thinking about how
to interact with each other and work together. And while it might be a
while before we can actually touch the technology, in the meantime
let's not lose sight of how we work with our customers and give them
the best possible service.

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