SATIRE: Automation in customer service is not making things more efficient

In the conversation about humans versus robots, we can all agree that some automation is just infuriating



Though animation was created to make customer service more helpful, in reality, it makes the experience more stressful.


Robots are much better workers than humans. After all, they never need to take bathroom breaks, eat or sleep. If there was no need for these things, nor a need to pay employees a living wage, corporations would be making a greater profit. Time is money after all. 

But have you ever used a self-checkout that just refused to function or tried dealing with the automated DMV call center when you had a very specific issue you needed help with? I have. 

Try sitting through that automated list of options wondering how you are supposed to talk to a real person because the machine cannot fix the fact the DMV sent your new license to the wrong address. Or “oops,” I made an easily fixable mistake at self-checkout and now I have to wait for an attendant. 

How embarrassing. A waste of my time and the attendant’s too. 

“Sometimes it’s efficient, sometimes it is just a waste of time because the design is bad. At least if it’s a person, we have a chance of connecting with each other,” Myrna McGovern said. 

McGovern considers herself an avid grocery shopper and robo-war enthusiast. 

McGovern said she believes that our phones, laptops and home systems like Alexa are listening to us, spying and plotting the downfall of humanity. 

“They are waiting to take us over. Self-driving cars make it so we have no control over our transport. Smart homes, Alexa … it’s just a plot to steal all our information. The uprising is coming, whether you acknowledge it or not,” McGovern insisted. 

While I am not worried about any robot uprising, my father has expressed his concerns about all the newfangled gadgets in cars made to make people reliant upon them and to aid an eventual push for self-driving vehicles. Or something like that. 

My mother and stepfather have noticed, quite eerily, that if they talk about something in the same room as Alexa, they tend to get advertisements related to that thing. As useful as tailored advertisements could be, it is a little annoying to think of everything someone could find out from the digital trail I leave behind. 

Still not as annoying as calling the DMV and not getting to talk to a real person though. It could drive a person mad, needing an actual conversation to solve a problem yet knowing you have to sit through the menu of useless options anyway. 

“When I have to sit through automated calls or the self-checkout does something stupid, it reminds me of that robot in Fallout 4. The one who only speaks one sentence of Japanese and serves noodles,” senior robotics major Piper Takahashi said.

“I think it would be awesome to make synthetic people, like in some sci-fi, but the human element is important to keep. I’d much rather deal with a person than self-checkout,” Takahashi said. “And don’t get me started on mass email marketing, gross.” 

Some technology is great. Man, I love a good dishwasher, but self-checkouts suck. I never knew that before Piggly Wiggly in around 1916, shoppers would just hand a list to a clerk and the clerk would fetch items for them. 

I have never tried or seen someone try to steal at self-checkout but I have heard that people do — either because they want to, swapping barcodes and whatnot, or because a stubborn item refuses to scan. 

I can sort of understand the latter — not wanting to put in extra effort because the technology is shoddily designed — but the risk of self-checkout theft ends up requiring an attendant to watch over them anyway. 

“Technology should be used to make things better for society, I think. But right now, stuff like the self-checkout or automated phone menus may cut costs for the company, but they really don’t benefit anyone else,” Takahashi said. 

There are genuine concerns with technological development and where it is taking us, not so much in the sense that technology is bad but rather the debate of whether we will use it well or not. Fantastic books exist on this. My complaint right now, however, is just that some technology is insanely infuriating. 

The DMV already sucked to visit — stories about the long waits and soul-sucking atmosphere echoed over the generations from some of the oldest people I know to teenagers. If we successfully used technology to make that worse, which we did, then I guess it makes sense for people not to trust us to do better.