Four things we learnt from technology writer Kate Russell

18th May 2017

Kate Russell started writing about technology, gaming and the internet in 1995. She’s been named one of the UK’s most influential women in IT and has been reporting for BBC technology programme Click for over a decade. In the latest Customer Focus magazine, she discussed the effects technology is having on customer service. Here are four things we learnt:

Trust in companies is changing

‘Twenty years ago, people were very wary about giving any [information] to the internet,’ Russell explains. “Then we started getting used to the idea of providing some details, such as a home address. And then, after some reluctance, we slowly accepted the idea of having a small piece of software placed in our computers so websites could tell if we’d visited there before. Today, if you took cookies away, we’d all be going, “What do you mean, I have to put all my details in again?” Our acceptance of the role that technology plays in our lives has really changed,” she says.

But public reviews are increasingly important

Customers are increasingly trusting of technology, the technology itself makes it possible for us to place trust in each other in a way we never could before. ‘We’re now in a trust society,’ she says. “We’re more accepting of the role of technology but also of the role and the influence of what our peers think. Airbnb has come from absolutely nowhere, for example. Or when you’re buying a holiday you Google it, and read what your peers are saying.” Studies have shown, she says, that people are much more likely to be influenced by a social media recommendation than by traditional forms of marketing and advertising.

Companies can join the conversation

Many companies have been better at responding to social media complaints and queries in recent years, but is this still enough? A buzzword that might be new to some is ‘social listening’ – and Russell had first-hand experience of that being put into action. “I had a conversation with somebody on Twitter about whether or not a Jaffa Cake was a cake or a biscuit and should you dip it in your tea.”

Not, perhaps, the highest intellectual reaches of Twitter, but an amusing enough chat. “But before long, we had Jaffa Cakes and Tetley’s all joining us, and then a digestive biscuit account came along and was a bit perturbed that we weren’t talking about them – and it was brilliant and so much fun.

“It was the best kind of social listening, because it shouldn’t just be about listening out for people complaining about you; you listen to people properly and react to them in a human and engaging way.”

Demographic assumptions should be challenged

And while many companies envisage customers using their technology to be on the younger side of their customer base, Russell points out this is not always the case. “Do you want to take a guess at the fastest growing demographic of Airbnb hosts?” she asks. “Over-60s. People who have put their home on Airbnb to rent out to strangers: that’s the fastest growing demographic and also the most highly scored [by renters]. I think a lot of people are still stuck with that idea of technology being for young people. The C-suite needs to get their heads around this fact.”

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