The March 24th issue of Time has a feature, "10 Ideas That Are Changing The World," one of which is "The End of Customer Service" by Barbara Kiviat. This is presented as an inexorable and vaguely positive thing, but I don't know.
A trip (two, actually) to a Maryland Ikea store this past week to buy some furniture for my new apartment sure brought this home. Ikea has features nice design, inexpensive prices, and great Swedish meatballs with lingonberries for $5. Well, maybe I should reverse the order of those attributes. They make it easy for a decorating doofus to match things.
I swear that every time I go to an Ikea store, which is only about annually, I see fewer employees. The ones that are left are always very helpful, but sometimes you have to look a bit to find one. This time, all the check-out lines were self-service. A single employee worked all the lanes to assist people like me who couldn't find the barcodes and to keep us from scanning both Box 1 and Box 2 when they're part of the same item or you'll pay twice.
I wouldn't be surprised if a few years from now, you'll walk into Ikea and see only customers. There will be a couple of guards on the way out, Costco style, to check your receipts against your cart, and maybe some people behind the scenes converting dollars into kronor. Go to the cafeteria and hold your plate under an opening and your dozen meatballs will drop out. Rotate the plate quickly and you'll get a splat of lingonberries and a blob of mashed potatoes (or is it the other way around?). Can't find something? Go to a kiosk and talk with a helpful operator named Bruce or Christine from Bangladesh (unless you're in an Ikea in Germany, in which case they're named Helmut and Helga). I'd rather they automate their self-service furniture pick up so I don't have to go for the Advil when I get home.
Bringing this back to media a minute... It's probably not too far off the mark to say that self-service is one of the defining characteristics of new media vs. old media. The legacy media are full service media. We think about what programs you want and when you want them so you won't have to. Just turn on your radio and television and sit back. New media are self-service. Search for this podcast or that video or that streaming link. Decide both what you want to consume and whether it's MP3 or Real or Windows Media or QuickTime. Which of the several players I have do I want to use? Want to use one of the new IP radios? Then sometimes be prepared to manually enter the URL of your favorite audio service. You get the picture.
So we who want to succeed with distributing programming over emerging platform choices need to design those services to make them simulate the full-service environment as much as possible. --Dennis