The theory of push pull has been most often applied to marketing processes by businesses and organizations. When these ideas are applied to customer service we can say that a user manual is a type of push customer service and an 800 number helpline would be a pull customer service. Push or pull is defined by whether the customer or the business initiates the activity.
In 1911 Fredrick Winslow Taylor published "The Principles of Scientific Management." Business took his ideas to heart and started focusing on becoming more efficient than their competition. This led to determining the needs of the potential customer and pushing the solutions out to those customers. In today’s market pushing solutions are sometimes seen by the customer as intrusive or overlooked by the customer as the solution gets lost due to information overload. Many companies are moving away from the push theory to a pull theory. That is, they are providing the information and solutions in a generally accessible format and allowing the customer to determine what best suits their needs.
One of the base assumptions about pushing solutions (products, information, etc.) to customers is that the business or organization can anticipate the needs of the customer in advance of the need and prepare the solution ahead of time. Organizations that emphasize the push theories often do so to increase efficiency. They believe that if, for instance, they create the penultimate user manual that they will cover all of the questions the customer might have and thereby limit the amount of contact the customer needs to make to the organization. As well, by using a push model the organization can limit those areas for which service is provided which again might provide efficiency in the training of support personnel. This model has become more difficult to implement as organizations are finding they may be sacrificing effectiveness for the efficiency.
Pulling solutions has always been a part of most organizations. A customer would visit the organization and ask questions and someone would answer them. In the case of “pull," the customer initiates the request for a solution rather than merely choosing a solution from the solutions offered by the organization. This is being used more often as consumers have begun to distrust the solutions provided directly by organizations and wish to do the research themselves. This model requires the business or organization to provide as much materials as possible in as many formats as possible and hope that the customer discovers the solution. This is not an efficient model from the customer’s or the organizations point of view but it is effective in many cases.
Effectiveness vs Efficiency
The Internet has provided the vehicle to allow businesses and organizations to move from a push model to a pull model for customer service. Customers can now research and find solutions without waiting for the business or organization to provide the solution. The advent of Web 2.0 and social networking has increased the resources available and often solutions are provided by other customers rather than the business or organization. Businesses and organizations need to patrol the Internet to ensure that the correct solutions are being proposed. This is inefficient for the business and poor information from other customers might hinder future sales through no fault of the business. Customers seem to prefer the effectiveness of doing their own research as opposed to the efficiency of relying on the business or organization for the solution.
Businesses and organizations will continue to use some combination of push and pull for customer service but there is a definite shift, fueled by the demands from the customers, to provide more pull and less push. “Do Not Call” and “Do Not Spam” lists are growing and many customers are not as willing to allow businesses and organizations to contact them regarding new products or features or existing products. Customers are seeking solutions from other customers as well as the businesses and organizations and making choices that in the past might have been left for the business or organization to solve. Businesses and organizations need to provide solutions in the forms that the customers want and it is clear the customer wants a pull model for their customer service.