Too Much Automation

Originally posted on March 28th, 2007 by Pete

There was an article in Wall Street Journal recently about schools overusing automated phone message systems, resulting in some families getting up to five calls in the same night and some with no real information (e.g., “your child is a pleasure to have in class”)!! The desire to communicate but the ease of doing it en masse and automatically.

Even worse than automated calling out systems is the over-reliance on “knowledge bases” and voice recognition for incoming technical help call centers. There is nothing more futile than trying to get a quick answer to a system technical (usually computer-related) question. It will work like this:

1. Waste a bunch of time trying to find your problem in the “knowledge base” of pre-built questions and answers. It is great if they have your question but, if not, you better get comfortable.

2. Waste more time going on a user forum. These have a worse case of the same problem as the knowledge bases–the information is not organized so you have to use a random search and/or browsing strategy which will likely yeild either no results or the teasing promise of results just around the corner of the next click.

3. Waste more time trying to find a phone number to call an actual person. Once you find the number, you will not get a person who can answer on the first call.

You could always email for help on a non-urgent problem. The likely outcome will be an instant reply telling you to check the knowledge base!! (and probably a warning not to reply to that address…and probably a message asking you to take a survey to report how satisfied you were with how they handled your case).

The only thing worse is calling cellular directory assistance. Technology is great but, when you want an answer quickly, technology really can’t match the satisfaction of asking someone who knows. You can clarify, you can discuss other similar situations…in short, you can actually learn how something works so you can do it yourself next time. Using automation for basic, easily answered questions or for triage is fine but have a person who can help when you need it.

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