Creating Virtual Ladies With Stubby Pencils
When Mrs. Allen called in to find the status of an account, Annie got the call. Annie chatted up Mrs. Allen—whom she may well have known from previous phone conversations. When she found Mrs. Allen’s account card in the tub, she would be reassuring that the returned book had indeed been received and that it would be reflected on the next statement. Mrs. Allen had reached the friendly voice of someone who knew her and cared. Mrs. Allen was a happy customer.
Switching to the Computer
The computer makes it possible to save millions of dollars a year by getting rid of roomfuls of “ladies with stubby pencils.” At the same time, it’s imperative that the new system be so smooth and seamless that customers believe they’re personally being taken care of by a real lady with a stubby pencil, even though she’s virtual.
In the words of the late, great freelance copywriter, Bill Jayme, “In the marketplace as in theater, there is indeed a factor at work called ‘the willing suspension of disbelief.’“
One of my early jobs was running the School Administrator’s Book Club and the Lawyer’s Literary Club for Macmillan’s Professional and Technical Publishing Inc., division (P.T.P.I., known familiarly as Pee-tee-pi), consisting of 14 different clubs. It was presided over by William H. (Bill) Houghton, whom I remember three things about: (1) He smoked eight packs of cigarettes a day in his office; (2) he was the most cautious, risk-averse executive I ever worked for; and (3) he was a brilliant conceptual thinker with one of the most meticulous, detail-oriented minds I have ever run across.
When Houghton took over the organization, he walked into a catastrophe. The clubs could send bills with the books it shipped, but was incapable of sending statements and had a one-year backlog of correspondence. Letters were being answered by hand in chronological order; this meant that members were hearing back from the club a year after they had written.