Speed in technology is critical. The theory is that if you can get your service or product to market faster than anyone else, you increase your customer base. Deliver pizza 5 minutes faster than your competitor, and you win the race. That’s why Robert Safian, editor of Fast Company explains, technology is pushing us to “adopt an ever-faster metabolism.” (“15 Lessons of Innovation for 2016,” by Robert Safian, Fast Company, March 2016, pg. 16.)
He could be right, but I’m betting he’s wrong. Here’s why.
Recently, I had a question about my cell phone. Did my plan cover long distance calls? What I required was a simple yes or no answer. I punched in the customer service number, but didn’t get an operator. Instead, was met with an array of menus. Suddenly, I felt exhausted, like a salmon confronted by a ladder on its return from the sea. Eventually, the machine ran out of options and asked if I’d care to speak to a human. I would. That’s when the program hung up on me. The lines were busy, it said. I should try again tomorrow.
Naturally, I did what any red blooded consumer would do. I headed for the store that sold me my plan. Miguel, the clerk, greeted me from behind the counter. He didn’t know the answer to my question and suggested I call customer service. I must have grown pale, because he decided to call for me. Magically, a disembodied voice rose from the speaker box. Eddie was its name. He listened to my question, but didn’t know the answer, either. He disappeared behind a wall of canned music. Miguel and I were treated to Waggoner’s complete Ring Cycle before Eddie returned with the information I needed.
Satisfied, I released my grip on Miguel’s tee shirt. Until then, I’d been clinging to it as if it were a dinghy in a storm tossed sea. The wrinkles I’d left on his torso were deeper than those on my aged face. I had to make amends. Could I could fill out a customer satisfaction card, I asked, Miguel looked at me as if I’d been foolish enough to allow bats to nest in my ears.
“I don’t think we have such a thing,” he replied.
“May I speak to your supervisor, then?” Miguel continued to look perplexed. “Surely there is someone with whom I might leave a compliment?”
Miguel held up one hand and stepped away from the counter. When he returned, a 2 x 2 inch yellow post-it was stuck to the end of his finger.
“Really? Someone will read my note scribbled on that?”
Miguel shrugged to say he didn’t know.
I left the store feeling both sadder and wiser. A company racing to grow its client base isn’t going to keep it very long without some human interface and a way to reward the few employees left in its workplace.