Human-Computer Communication in Electronic Commerce

An important consideration for creating effective electronic commerce applications is for developers to be fully cognizant of the nature of human-computer communication relative to customer service.  Humans, by nature, need to interact with other people especially when we are experiencing stress or trying to resolve a purchase-related problem; leaving a message with a computerized messaging system or working solely with an automated system can exacerbate the stress. 

In the 1990s I worked for an IBM business partner selling and installing banking telephony-based interactive voice response (IVR) systems.  Typically, we would place the IVR systems in front of the human-manned call center.  The plan was to have the IVRs handle the mundane calls thereby allowing the call center reps to devote their time to more complex issues.  Customers, however, disliked the arrangement, so many banks placed the computers behind the call center in order to handle call overflow.  Now here is where it becomes interesting: The bank’s customers loved having a human rep answer the initial call but quickly wanted to be transferred to “the machine” to transact their banking business. The net result was that the IVR’s were doing exactly what we had originally planned for them to do but the only difference was that customers wanted to talk to a human first.

I frequently remind my colleagues that the reason we have computers and electronic commerce is because of people. In order to develop more effective applications we must focus on people first and info systems second. 

There are times, however, that I feel like a voice in the darkness.


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