Where Have All the Humans Gone?


Recent experiences with my credit card company, a local hardware store and a home delivery food service company have me pondering the simple question: where have all the humans gone?

"Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed." More than menu options have changed in today's automation age; relationships are falling by the wayside and the customer journey is being detoured as companies hide behind the guise of increased efficiency, more specific analytics, better customer service, improved productivity and big dollar savings as reasons.

"There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else." - Sam Walton

There has been a paradigm shift in the way organizations big and small deal with incoming customer traffic. Phone automation including interactive voice response (IVR) has taken over. The improper overuse of phone automation is pushing clients to competition, damaging a company's reputation and frustrating customers. If a little is good, a lot must be much better. NOT! Reception has been replaced by an 800-number, a voice activated robot and a touch tone keypad. When poorly implemented, the customer experience suffers, along with any positive vibes we had about the company. Failing service grades equate to lost business. We will spend our money somewhere else.

Don't get me wrong, when it comes to technology, I am all in. But if you want to really frustrate me, try wasting my time and I will take my business to the competition faster than you can say, "Please hold, your call will be answered shortly."

"Customer needs and expectations evolve over time. So must our efforts to deliver a great experience." - Annette Franz @annettefranz"

Is it just me or does it seem like no one wants to talk anymore? Call me old school, but when I pick up the phone to call a company, I'd love to have an opportunity to quickly, if not immediately, speak to a human being. Business has gotten wise to guys like me, so they have replaced the "Operator" button (0) with the, "Please listen carefully..." auto-response. They claim to appreciate my business, at least that's what they tell me 12 times as I am waiting on hold because they are experiencing call volume higher than normal. With all the analytics companies have access to, shouldn't they know when to expect "higher than normal" call volume and staff accordingly? And while I appreciate that they are working with other important customers just like me, I am thinking these other customers must have the inside skinny on how to reach a human being faster than I do.

"Haters are not your problem. Ignoring them is." - Jay Baer

Is our business really as important to them as the robotic voice claims? In theory I am sure it is, but in practice I think not. At a time when exposure to a customer should be at it's highest, companies are doing their best to avoid human contact. And while they think we might appreciate the automated instructions on how to access frequently asked questions on their website, we would have done that already if we thought we could find the answer quickly. Finding the solution to the problem online is even more challenging than finding the 800-number to call to reach a human being.

As a result of hammering, stammering and manipulating my way through automation, unlocking the secret passage, making it to the bonus round and actually speaking to a person, why is my reward sometimes a stiff, ill-prepared, script reading, mumbling representative with their headset microphone adjusted too close to their mouth? Attention C-level execs, business owners, customer service managers and people in a position of authority, if you are going to make me climb to the top of the phone tree, at least make the reward of speaking to a real person a satisfying victory. Invest in training your front line, your business depends upon it.

Maybe one day there will be touchtone keys for empathy, compassion, rapport and appreciation. In the meantime I will continue hitting the "0" button, waiting for a human to pick up the phone. I hear Tuesdays and Thursdays before 7 a.m. are days they experience their lightest call volume, at least that's what their robot tells me.