This may be obvious, but it just occured to me this afternoon. The wife and I were dropping her car off at my grandmother’s to avoid the wrath of DC parking officials who don’t like people who “forget” to register their car in the District when they move there. We’re selling the car, so it doesn’t make sense to title it in DC. Anyway, we stayed to chat, and the topic of talking on the phone with computers came up. The phone had rung, and I answered it. It was someone wanting me to take a survey. I declined, since it would be rude to leave my wife and grandmother.
In any event, we talked a bit about talking on the phone with computers, and how voice recognition has come a long way, but that it’s often difficult to get a real person on the phone when you need one.
I realized why this irritates me so much. First, it irritates me because, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a mild annoyance, which means it’s more likely to get under my skin. But the real reason it drives me up the wall is that anything a computer voice can do on the phone, I’ve probably already tried to do on the company’s website. I don’t call my bank to check my balance or see the last three debits from my account. I call because I have a weird question that a computer isn’t going to understand.
There should be special customer service lines for the technologically-adept. I’m willing to promise (And actually mean it) that I’ve made every reasonable effort to solve my problem on your website before calling you. In return, you promise to actually have a real person answer the phone when I call. I’m willing to answer two questions to a computer for call routing purposes, but that’s all. No series of menus that never seem to quite have the option I need.
I suspect that things will go this way. As more and more people grow up with the internet, more and more people will turn to the computer before the phone. And as websites get better, the number of people who need to actually call a company for customer service will go down. Then it may make sense to have direct lines answered by people because the only problems that will actually be addressed by phone are the ones that really do require human intelligence.
Of course, that’ll probably happen right about the same time that we figure out real artificial intelligence, and that will change all of customer service. But that could be cool, too.