Bad Automation – It’s Here

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Automation is Here

Go to a movie theater,  an airport, or an amusement park and you will experience more interaction with machines and less with human beings.    This may on the surface seem like a good thing but in terms of personal cost and experience, I believe it is harmful to customer experience and limits our ability to make choices.

Do you push or say “operator” when you are calling a company?

Most people when asked dislike dealing with machines vs talking to a human being. See http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/6-tips-to-reach-a-human-operator.html.   Nigel Clark even created a consumer business around this concept called http://www.pleasepress1.com.

Companies continue to use these services because most customers simply deal with it.

  1. The overall costs are lower or seem to be lower in the short run.
  2. The percentage of customers that get frustrated and leave may find that they have no place to go because many companies have gone to robotic services.
  3. Machine services are getting better and some people today may not even realize they are speaking to a machine.

From the business side of things, it makes sense and it makes the “board” happy to see operating costs decrease.  From the consumer side,  I argue that good customer experience is decreasing over time and that consumers are simply getting used to being treated like this.   Consider what you do in your life and how you deal with these situations.

From here,  I will just provide a few short examples of why automation at this time is bad for consumers and customer experience.

Air Travel

Airline companies have pushed customer experience to the brink.  They have pushed people so far emotionally and economically that they don’t want to fly.   When I was a child, my father would take me to the airport to watch the planes take off.   We would see people get dressed up to fly.  It wasn’t a bus service it was an experience .   When we did fly, it was fun and felt like an adventure.   I recall people clapping when the plane landed.   The pilot was a person that you would admire.

Today,  flying is miserable.   Consumers must deal with micro-transactions, unfair practices and treatment of passengers, limited choices and being forced to be physically and emotionally uncomfortable through the travel process.  On top of all of this,  since our world is increasingly unsafe,  consumers are forced to deal with being dehumanized and embarrassed as they line up as cattle to be inspected as they seek to get to their gate.

Automation is all over the airlines

  1. While choosing an airline or flight, it is very likely that you are dealing with a machine.   This is very normal today and the reason it is bad for consumers is because we are presented with choices and there is no negotiation.
  2. Once a consumer makes a choice and locks in, micro-transactions can begin to take place and consumers now only have two options,  choose to continue or choose to discontinue the overall transaction.  If they choose to discontinue the overall transaction,  there may be a fee (most likely).
  3. Through the process of physically getting a ticket,  confirming a seat,  tagging baggage more recently weighing baggage, it is likely that a consumer deals with a machine vs a person.

Why is this a problem?

On recent travel,  I had a problem confirming my flight on the website and application.   When I called the airline, I had no person I could talk to and the machine just kept telling me that I had to solve my problem at the airport.  I spent a lot of time going back over my information to make sure, I didn’t miss anything.  I also kept going back to the website to continue trying just in case it was a technical issue or a timing issue.   After many attempts over time, I was able to resolve the problem but I am not sure how.  I just kept trying.

When I got to the airport,  there were several lines but I couldn’t tell if I needed to get in line or not because I had already confirmed and simply needed to drop off a bag.   Asking another passenger a question is the natural thing to do because maybe they know something I don’t.   Of course they don’t know, they are just guessing like the rest of us.  So,  I took a chance and went to the short line where they receive baggage.  Luckily, there was a person there and she took my bag.   Other passengers noticed my “airline courage” and followed over to the short line.    When the person took my bag and placed it on the scale she said “It is 2 kilograms over, please be sure to take something out on your way home, I will let you through now.”

I was thankful that she took the bag and didn’t make me open it or pay $300.00 more for 4 extra pounds.   Here is the reason why she told me to be careful on the way home.

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On the way home, there are no people only machines.   We are to tag and bag our own baggage and if it weighs more,  you pay.  There is no negotiation and no discussion only 0 or 1.

As a side note,  over 90% of the trip home including security was automated.  There were only 2-3 times that we interacted with a person.

I am not inclined to take a trip like this again as I felt like a unique id being fed through a physical manifestation of something digital.

 

Movies

There was a time that parents would hand kids a few bucks and drop them off at the movie theater.  The movies represented a lot of things, it was a way to get out for a little while and immerse yourself in a new world.  Maybe we would go on a date and share some popcorn or even take the whole family.

Today going to the movies is a whole production in itself.   The experience in the theater is one thing but the experience to get the tickets is a whole ordeal within itself.   We can use services like Fandango to buy tickets ahead of time.   Print the tickets or use an app.  While this seems convenient and practical it is very expensive.  An average trip to the movies for my family is over $75.00 between tickets, popcorn etc.   Automation has made things worse.

On a recent trip to the theater,  I decided I would go directly to theater with my family because it is likely that the theaters do not put special pricing on sites like Fandango.

“The availability of military and student discount tickets is controlled by each individual theater, not by Fandango. To see if any discounts are being offered for your theater for purchases made via Fandango, click on a red show time to begin the purchase process. All available ticket categories will be displayed on the subsequent page. Look for ticket categories labeled “military discount” and “student discount,” or similarly named categories which would indicate a specially priced ticket.

Please be aware that not all theaters make student and military discounts available through Fandango. Many theaters offer these discounts exclusively at their box office. We suggest that you check with your local theater for their military and student discount policy and availability. Individual theater phone numbers can be found by clicking on the corresponding blue theater name.” http://fandango.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/144/~/military/student-discounts

When I went to my local theater,  I had the expectation that a person would be at the window and that I could get the discounts that I had expected before.  What I found was a kiosk.

Ticket-Kiosks

When I walked up to the kiosk,  it said “Welcome Mr. Cohen, so happy to see you, Alexa told us you would be here and we tracked your vehicle and estimated your arrival, based on your previous movie choices, we believe that you, your children and your wife would like to see Spiderman.”   Just kidding, it didn’t say that but I tell you what it didn’t say “DISCOUNT.”   There were no discounted tickets and the kiosk itself has a service charge.  Technically,  you can pre-order popcorn or whatever else you want on there as well but choices are limited.

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Combine the “decoy effect” with automation and you have a perfect opportunity!

We always have the choice to stay home or pay the extra money,  what I am talking about is the experience.    I enjoy talking to the young kids at the counter that are working their first job.  I enjoy asking for other options.

Where else?

Home improvement stores,  Pharmacy (they hand you a paper and you may not even talk to a pharmacist any longer),  Doctors office,  grocery stores,  bowling alley, gas station, and work.   Automation and the reduction of people in the workforce is accelerating day by day.    Some of this is intelligent but most of it is not.    Consumers are constantly getting hit with less choice, no opportunities to negotiate or discuss, less opportunity to interact with human being and less opportunity to benefit from a transaction.

Most people are asked to agree to things electronically that are overwhelming thought automation as well.   People are so used to hitting electronic licensing agreements that they simply don’t read, they just say “yes.”   Recently,  22,000 people agreed to scoop poo and clean toilets for free wifi. Free Wifi.

Summary

Maybe this was a little long but I hope you realize that this impacts you and it is important to understand what is happening.    It will only get worse over time as we become more numb and tolerant to automation.

Recently a television commercial for a security system has a woman calling asking for help as someone just broke into her house, the machine answered and told her that she was in the wrong department.

Automation is here and it is advancing too quickly.   What happens when your mother receives a robocall from the lab diagnostic services.  “Hello, Mrs. Weaver,  we hope you are having a wonderful day, your lab results are in and they are x,y,z.  Your death is estimated in 5.35 weeks, 2 hours and 3 seconds.  If you have any questions about your results please contact our lab health center or find us on line at http://www.fastlabz.com.”

Consumers are being treated like unique identified targets vs customers.   Analytics is replacing the idea of individual interaction.  Customization is really about the presentation of limited options that are terminus as opposed to having room to move in directions that are not prepacked.   As more companies go down this road, consumer choice will actually continue to decrease over time.   This impacts work life and home life and it impacts the quality of an experience.

If you disagree please like this post, if you agree please like this post.

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Travel is a nightmare. There is never anyone to talk to about anything. You are just a widget in a machine. Too bad we can’t start our own airlines!

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