Publisher’s Note: In Praise of Humanity in the Digital-Service Economy

From alienation to human contact: an appreciation of knowledgeable service providers

At this year’s NeoCon, Coalesse showcased its customizing capabilities. The company’s Concierge Specials Team worked with fabric manufacturer Designtex to apply custom-printed designs to its furniture.

Courtesy Coalesse

I’m struggling in phone hell, with robo-email streams, and with a general lack of helpful human presence in our fast-paced digital-service economy. We have, it seems, entered that long-predicted dystopia of smart machines where humanity is a mere nuisance. But just as I’m about to go over the ledge, I get a tip that pulls me back.

Worried about my mental state, an informant encourages me to call Lisa Clark, VP of customer experience at Coalesse, the Michigan-based contract furniture manufacturer. My mood turns hopeful at the sound of Lisa’s cheerful and sincere voice as she describes the skillful, kind, supportive, and knowledgeable people who populate Coalesse’s concierge service. Their goal is to work directly with interior designers and architects to help them realize their designs and turn their company’s products into bespoke pieces and collections.

Though the practice of customizing a manufacturer’s product is nothing new, the old Customer’s Own Material (COM) system is now a creature of the digital age because websites are filled with information and advice. It is now possible for designers to have, as the Coalesse concierge service claims, expedited communication with experts, quick turnaround times, overnight FedEx sampling, and access to essential information on the behavior of upholstery fabrics. Person-to-person contact is at the heart of this fruitful exchange between designer and manufacturer.

Reading the company’s website, I’m reminded of the complexities of choosing textiles, which can be supplied by many different manufacturers. Yet these many choices help designers create unique interiors. Working on today’s tight deadlines, designers appreciate collaborating with knowledgeable experts on such complex issues as textile cutting methods; stitching styles; fabric fluidity and thickness; large repeats; and the real possibility that a material will wrinkle, puddle, pucker, or form “cat teeth”—a detail that can ruin the look of an upholstered piece.

As Lisa points out, her expert concierge crew’s rapid response to requests “speeds up the design process and helps designers do excellent work.” It turns out, then, that our digitized culture really does rely on the human need to communicate with others, and on our need to form trusting relationships.

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