Whatever happened to Customer Service?

In its March edition, Time magazine featured ‘10 ideas that are changing the world’. Of these 10, the one that I found quite amusing was idea number 2, The End of Customer Service. What astounds me is how as a society, we have welcomed this phenomena with open arms.

Intially the idea of self dependence was liberating. Being able to self check in at airports instead of waiting in long lines, only to have to switch to another queue, ATM’s, and even self check out counters at supermarkets. All of these were luxuries.

Time magazine posed a very valid question, ‘ By adding all these new tasks to our daily routine, are we overstressing ourselves and reducing our quality of life?’.

Now, just to clarify, these new tasks that Time is referring to are things like the ‘ Airport of the Furture, that Alaskan Airlines is building in Seattle. The ticket counter has been obliterated; only islands of self-service-check-in kiosks remain’. In Malaysia, IBM has outfitted a chain of sushi restaurants with ordering screens linked to the kitchen; so much for waitresses’. Out of all these examples that Time put forward, the one that was truely a shame was ‘ Heritage Valley Health Hospital System in Pennsylvania, that will soon join ranks with hospitals using check-in kiosks for emergency-room visits. Simply touch the image of the human body where it hurts.

So going back to the question that Time magazine put forward. I think we are overstressing ourselves. Ever call up your bank, or your cell phone company? Have you like most others, wasted time, pressing buttons only to find yourself talking to a computerized voice that really can’t help you, because well, your query was a few buttons behind. I always find myself directly dialling zero to speak to an operator. Somehow, even though they can’t always help you, it is comforting knowing a ‘human’ is trying to help you instead of a computer.

So where are we now? I feel like I am stuck between a generation that was moving towards a slightly more tech-savvy way or life and a generation that is literally drowning in it. To be quite frank, I prefer the prior.

There is something almost romantic about quaint little shops, there’s a certain warmth when you talk to the old man behind the counter and he hands you your goodies in a little brown paper bag.

Nowadays all we have are computers and plastic. There’s no romance left, no people to help people, but rather a world where we have to help ourselves.

I was thinking about the health systems that Time mentioned, and it dawned upon me, that these kiosks could offer no compassion, no sympathy, no comforting words to someone who just brought in a patient that had to be admitted. Is that really the world we want to live in?

I think as a society we are losing track of the little things in life, we are forgetting simplicities and we are so wrapped up in this technological world that some of us even forget to look out a window, or take a walk to enjoy nature. None of us can survive without our cellphones or laptops.

So in response to Time Magazines question, yes I do think we are reducing our quality of life. It is not just a matter of customer service, but the principle behind it. Forget the fact that it takes away jobs from people, but it also takes away a piece of who we are as human beings.

It takes away our ability to do something for some, it robs us of the action of giving, and it supresses our humanity. Afterall, if we cannot help each other, we cannot help ourselves.

Rachel Paul

[Image courtesy: http://webworkerdaily.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/customer-service.jpg]