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IS AUTOMATION KILLING CUSTOMER SERVICE?

Posted by Tim Bryce on October 6, 2020

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

– Maybe companies simply do not want to talk with us.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

For a long time now, businesses have been trying to leverage computer automation to minimize expenses and maximize income. It’s been used to streamline inventory, product design, manufacturing, and order processing. Lately though, there has been a concerted effort to reduce costs under the guise of customer service. Let’s look at some of the most typical applications:

* Voice Mail (VM) – more than just processing phone calls, voice mail is now used to order products, prescriptions, and answer basic service questions, such as warranty or medical questions. Unfortunately, the labyrinth of VM forces you to spend upwards to four times more on the phone than if you spoke with a human. I find it amusing when, after you have spilled your guts to the computer, it says, “No, I’m afraid I cannot do that. Please try back later” (when you have more time to waste).

* Self-checkout – Instead of having a clerk process your order, the customer is

now expected to scan, bag, and pay for products themselves. This is commonly found in such companies as Home Depot, Publix, Walmart, etc. I have always appreciated the work of clerks to perform this service and developed a rapport with them, but I guess those days are numbered.

* Check-in for service – through a touch screen, the customer checks himself into a store and waits for his number to be called. I have found this in blood testing facilities, cell phone shops, and cable companies. Interestingly, such software doesn’t recognize there is a growing line of customers waiting thereby triggering additional clerks to handle the backlog, and the line grows longer and longer…

* Franchise Restaurants now have kiosks to order food and/or to pay the bill. At the local Chili’s, I can do just about everything on the table-top computer they provide you. After you order, someone you have never laid eyes on suddenly appears to deliver your order. Interestingly, they still expect you to tip generously, but since I do not know who my waiter or waitress is, I’m less inclined to do so.

The companies who offer such applications believe they are saving money by redistributing the use of human service. What they fail to understand is such software results in a human frustration factor which leads to unhappy customers; customers who will be inclined to go elsewhere instead of facing such nonsense again.

And let’s be clear, this is NOT customer service, but rather the customer assuming the role of the clerk and doing the company’s job (and not being compensated for doing so). Let’s take self-checkout for example, the customer does not get a discount for packing his own bags and checking out. By doing so, they are doing the clerk’s job under the ruse this will speed up checkout. Sorry, but this is pure BS.

Improving customer service means improving the status quo, and so far, I have not seen it in any of the applications mentioned. If anything, it takes longer to process, causing frustration, and increasing customer dissatisfaction.

There is something to be said about courteous clerks who know what they are doing, does it well, and possesses empathy for the customer. Back in the day when I was a young gas jockey for a Standard Oil station up north, we sold a lot of extra products and services, just by simple courtesy and attention to detail. For example, I was able to schedule several lube jobs, tune-ups, and sold a lot of tires and batteries. I wasn’t just pumping gas, I was providing customer service, appreciated by our patrons who developed strong loyalties to our station, all of which improved our cash flow. Plain and simple, people liked to come to our station.

So, how does that compare to today’s applications? The company may be saving money by having the customers fulfill the job of their employees, but I doubt patrons are happy about doing so and probably purchase less products and services than those featuring human contact.

So, is automation killing customer service? The reality is, the software has less to do with customer service and more to do with reducing the costs of human processing.

By the way, next time the phone rings, try answering it on the first ring. Customers greatly appreciate the human touch. It makes you sound professional.

Keep the Faith!

P.S. – Also, I have a NEW book, “Before You Vote: Know How Your Government Works”, What American youth should know about government, available in Printed, PDF and eBook form. This is the perfect gift for youth!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is an author, freelance writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb1557@gmail.com

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2020 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

2 Responses to “IS AUTOMATION KILLING CUSTOMER SERVICE?”

  1. Tom Keffer said

    A neighbor of mine was at our Walmart here in Zephyrhills doing her self checkout and a customer next to her was using a hand scanner attached to my friends machine to scan her stuff but a sales lady saw the scam, reset the computer and the guilty customer scooted away empty handed..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lawrence P. Marlin said

    Tim, you are so right about this problem. Short story. My wife and I built a new home. It took the builder and me several trips to the electric company to shift the bill from him to me. That accomplished, I began working without human help to sign up for autopay. Thought I had. A while later I received a letter telling me I had missed my payment. I contacted the company and wrote a check. Before I mailed the check, I sent and email to the company (that was the only way I could reach a person). The next morning at 9 AM I received a call from a empathetic individual in the billing department telling me she had completed my request for autopay and had removed the interest charge. She answered a couple of my questions. All this was accomplished in three minutes. So, months of using my time to solve a problem versus a few minutes with a person. The company redeemed itself and I amended by previous Google rating from one star with four stars. It would have been five stars if Elsa had been allowed to handle in problem in the first place.

    Like

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