Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

The real reason robots are replacing human labor

May 12, 2015

The great danger of so-called artificial intelligence is not that computers will become sentient beings, but that decision-makers will treat them as if they are.

Machines are tools.  They are a means to multiply human strength and to duplicate repetitive human tasks.  They are highly useful.  But they are not a substitute for human skill and judgment.

jobretraining21stcenturyThe use of automatic pilots in airplanes is a good example.  An automatic pilot will make fewer errors than a human pilot, especially if airline management has pushed the human pilot to the point of exhaustion.  But excessive use of automatic pilots means that the human pilot’s skills wither, and the human is less able to respond in an emergency that doesn’t fit the computer algorithm.

Another example is the use of the Internet and automatic answering machines for customer service.  I don’t think anybody who has ever had to deal with one of these things thinks that they provide improved customer service.  Their purpose is to create a barrier between the organization and the public in order to save money, but also in order to free the managers from the inconvenience of having to deal with actual human beings.

Machines don’t talk back.  Not even self-directed machines talk back.  Neither do they exercise judgment or think of ways to do the work better.

But from the standpoint of a bureaucrat whose goal is the seamless exercise of power, the latter consideration is unimportant.   It is much more convenient to program machines than to deal with employees or deal with the public.

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Outsourcing the waste of time

January 12, 2012

Today’s communications technology is amazing.  Why, then, does it take longer than ever to communicate?  Anybody who has tried to contact a credit card company, an insurance company, a public utility or a government agency knows what I mean.  You have to set aside a block of time, and discipline yourself to be patient.

A friend of mine wanted to talk to somebody about his AT&T service.  He spent an afternoon trying to reach somebody who could help him.  He talked to six different people, many with south Asian accents and poor connections, none of whom could help him, with all his conversations separated by having to listen to the kind of music farmers play in barns to encourage cows to give more milk.  He finally gave up when the battery in his cell phone died.

I’m pretty sure that each of the people to whom he talked were monitored to make sure they got my friend off the line within a limited number of minutes and to make sure they said “Perfect!” instead of “okay” and all the rest of the prescribed lingo.  Just as I doubt that there was a metric to measure whether his problem was really solved.

A woman I met once who is an astute marketing manager for a bank told me talked about all the ways to make visiting her bank a “good customer experience.”  Yet the same bank’s telephone system is a labyrinth of automated voice messages and decision trees leading nowhere, and she sees no problem with this.

The cause of this, in my opinion, is a misbegotten idea of economic efficiency, which unfortunately is not limited to customer service call centers.  This idea is that an institution’s priority should be to maximize its use of resources, including human resources.  If there were enough customer service representatives so that a caller could get through instantly, and they could take as much time as necessary to resolve the caller’s problem, then there would be times when the call center operators would be standing by.  In order for the service reps to be working continuously, there has to be a queue of callers waiting at any given time..

Waste of time is not eliminated.  The organization’s time is saved, but the client’s time is wasted.  Waste of time is outsourced from the organization to the client.