From Social Media to Shelbots

The @Viodi Twitter handle is supposed to be for industry-relevant items, but sometimes it is used for things that are seemingly a bit off-topic. Traveling home from MTA and inspired by Rosie Berg of Pinnacle, I figured that Twitter might be the easiest way to draw attention to what looked to be a potential log-jam at American Airlines’ MSP gate. With only two agents and about 25 people in line, it was clear they needed help.

Remembering the words of Tom Peters from the pre-Internet days that it was our patriotic duty to “complain” (so that businesses could improve their processes), I composed a Tweet to @AmericanAir explaining the issue they had. I snapped a picture to reinforce that the frontline troops needed reinforcing.

The response time from @AmericanAir was impressive and within a few minutes we had an exchange that presumably anyone on Twitter could see. The outcome was positive as another agent showed up to the rescue and there was an even a nice exchange of hashtags, @viodi #headedhome @americanair #homesweethome.

The lesson here is what Berg of Pinnacle suggested when she emphasized the importance of having a proactive policy for dealing with complaints and how the conversation, which starts out as a PR negative can turn into a positive. In my case, I had a warm and fuzzy feeling with @americanair’s final response of #homesweethome.

Shelbot to the Rescue

This incident triggered a thought on how one of the more interesting demonstrations at International CES 2014 could be used to improved customer support when the kiosks and computer systems just don’t seem to work and when a human touch is needed. The above video provides a clue as to the potential use of a technology that is intended to eliminate travel and how it could be be used to help customer support.

Wandering the expanses of the CES tradeshow in Las Vegas in January with my wheeled tri-pod and trusty Canon HF10 camcorder drew the attention of Sara and Amy from Suitable Technologies. Soon, we were locked in one of my more memorable and engaging interviews of CES 2014. What made this a bit odd is that they were 600 miles away in Palo Alto, CA.

After a few seconds, it felt like we were in the same room and I forgot that I was talking to Sara and Amy’s virtual presence. In some ways, it was remarkably similar to the recent movie Her. It became clear that these types of devices could be cost-justified on travel and time savings. As importantly, they afford the executive or specialist the opportunity to more frequently Manage By Wandering Around (or rolling around, as it were).

It is not difficult to imagine these sorts of devices being used by an airline as a reinforcement when problems arise like the one I faced. With agents located remotely (e.g. potentially working from home), front-line customer support could be added on an on-demand basis and quickly redeployed to various airports as needed.

Of course, from the airline’s profit perspective, the efficiency improvements for this sort of application may not exceed the reduction in travel caused by these virtual points of presence. Beyond the airline customer service application, the applications for this sort of technology could be huge in rural areas, as they offer the potential to spread expertise (education, health, customer support, etc.) to locations where windshield time make it cost-prohibitive today.

P.S. Big Bang Theory Fans – the virtual presence devices in the above video are relatives of the Shelbot that Jim Parson’s character used to extend himself, so he could be at two places at once. Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak makes an appearance in that episode as well.