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, 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 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.

0 thoughts on “Faster response times and Google’s Wave

  1. One reader writes:
    And my usually suppressed Luddite tendencies rise to the fore … George Orwell is brought to mind and I can’t help but wonder how he would have seen the world today. I don’t tweet or IM, living in the comfort that, by the time it reaches anyone over the age of 30, it is passe; although Jesse (20-something) refuses to do anything called a “tweet.” (I’ve probably already mentioned that.)

    There are times when I wonder why we have become so devoted to “instant” and “constant.” I do understand that most of your comments relate to business and I do think that timely response is important in that realm, but these are things that affect personal lives as well. I am reminded of the days when only a few had cell phones and I could never understand why, outside of physicians on call, anyone needed to be that connected. Has no one ever just let the phone ring without answering it — or even turned it off? In the days before answering machines — we were late adopters on that one, too — it was easy. If someone really wanted to reach you, he or she would call back. (I can already hear the arguments of “What if it’s an emergency?” — Well, what if? He or she will call back. We did survive in the pre-instant era.)

    We seem to have lost the ability to communicate on a real level; is it cause or result that we spend so much time doing “communication” in the ‘sphere? Do we feel the need for instant communication because we can no longer touch someone in a personal and integral way? Or can we no longer touch someone because we are now tied to instant communication? Epistolaries, certainly soon only historic, are filled with real meaningful communication that took, sometimes, months to reach the recipient and the sender didn’t receive a response for months but the content connected them over time. Even in a common sort of everyday way the letters of 84 Charing Cross Road share life in another era in all its real, beautiful, and dirty aspects. (Well, not so dirty, I guess.)

    And as I write this, I feel it is trite because there are those who are saying it much more eloquently than I.

    The newsletter sparked something in me because I have been feeling old and Luddite-like because I realize that through work I am going to become exposed to things like Twitter and I don’t know what that’s going to look like or how I can intelligently discuss what it looks like.

  2. I asked Sam Lessin of what he thought of the Wave announcement.

    Sam: I think it is intellectually fascinating — obviously very relevant to what we are doing… we will certainly engage with it — the realtime web and all the implications of the buzzword on what is content vs. conversation is under massive pressure to change 🙂

    David: I guess whether enough developers will contribute add-ons and embrace their APIs will be telling. How easy will it to build these apps, and how Google treats its developers? We’ll see.

    Sam: totally agree – but we for one are going to engage with it

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