Sunday, September 23, 2012

Customer Service

The demise of customer service seems an evolutionary stage in the dumbing down of America. From the cash registers programmed to tell a high school dropout cashier how much change is due the customer to the computerized “receptionist” in the Customer Service office which spews forth a menu containing ALL the possible reasons a person might call to discuss.

The register calculates the change due after the amount of cash tendered is entered. The result is in dollars and cents. That’s the way the cashier returns the change to the customer -- first the cash (because that’s what the computer said) then the coins. The cashier now tries to balance 94 cents worth of change on top of flat paper money. Many times the coins go sliding off the pile and hit the drive-thru pavement and roll under the car.

Before computers did the thinking for humans, making change was by the “counting up” method beginning with the coins first, then the bills. The coins nestled comfortably in the cupped palm. The thumb and forefinger were readily able to secure the bills -- no muss, no fuss, no errant coins. These logical computers have interfered with and oftentimes have destroyed human logical thinking.

In customer service call centers where people have been replaced by computers it seems the menus are designed by those who expect only the unenlightened to call. If the caller is one who can formulate a question, the presumptuous list of possibilities in the menu will rarely include the specific reason being called about. One experienced, dedicated human call taker can redirect to the appropriate authority with much greater efficiency than a “guessing” machine. I am reminded of Kathryn Hepburn’s character in Desk Set. She was the “expert“ about to be replaced by efficiency expert Spencer Tracy‘s computer.

I worked, for a short time prior to early retirement, in the AAA Emergency Road Service call center. It was an ideal position for me. A medical difficulty forced me out of the tractor trailer I had been driving into a non-driving job. I brought years of driving experience to AAA along with thorough knowledge of the geographical area. I could “find” motorists with car trouble who themselves didn’t know where they were.

The company decided, however, to computerize the Road Service function and they moved it to another office a prohibitive distance away thus ending my Road Service tenure. Their thinking was that a computer would allow them to employ minimally skilled people who would not need extensive training. Essentially, the Road Service workers would have only to enter the membership number of the motorist-in-distress and a rudimentary location and a service truck would be on its way.

Needless to say the computer could not ask the customer where they began their trip, where they were headed and approximately how long they were driving before they got into trouble so that no educated guess about their location “across the road from a red barn with a couple cows in the field next to it” could be made.

I love computers but they can’t read between the lines. People can.

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