Emily is Bell Canada’s automated attendant. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a bit blue – I call her up and hit on her relentlessly. These exchanges can become quite ribald, although admittedly somewhat one-sided. Emily never takes offense, although she does occasionally become confused. I’m quite certain under that chestnut hair dye lives a true blue blond.
What I’m really talking about here is the decline of customer service. I’m old enough to remember the days without Integrated Voice Response (IVR) and call center agents – even worse, my profession gave me a front row seat as big business scrambled to embrace a host of technologies designed to “increase customer loyalty while dramatically reducing the cost of customer service”. In fact, I made my living designing and selling Customer Relationship Management systems without ever imagining how drastically they would reduce quality of life for practically every person in North America.
I started writing this well into the first 15 minutes of my current engagement with Bell’s fine support organization and in that first 15 minutes, I had the pleasure of a steamy exchange with Emily, then maddeningly frustrating experience with Heather (a “live” agent) who’s help desk script clearly didn’t include my broken product within it’s scope – but did prompt her to relentlessly attempt to up-sell me on a remote connection product before reluctantly transferring me to the next air-head in the process. Which meant the inevitable wait on hold while I was connected to – of course – a second level agent in India. Then an even more frustrating exchange with said agent in India whose name I could never hope to pronounce. I’m currently on hold for a programmer and have been for over 10 minutes.
And it will get worse.
As we baby boomers retire, a much smaller workforce will be hard pressed to backfill the customer service functions that are becoming more and more important as technology continues to permeate our lives. This means more Emilys and even worse, a continued boom in the call center business for nations with the technology and cheap labor to fill the demand.
The aimless whining of an old fart too stuck in the past to embrace the Brave New World?
No Virginia; there is no Brave New World in our future. Well, maybe if the aliens actually DO show up some day, but in all likelihood our future will be one of increased automation and robotics, higher prices, self-service, global warming (actually that works for me so far…) and even more global conflict. And that’s why fooling around with old Ducatis gives me comfort these days.
For the first time in a decade, I haven’t been thrashing away on a major bike project and the time to slowly whittle away on the F1 rebuild has been most welcome. If I need something for that bike, I’ve generally gotta call someone (who’ll answer the phone) and chat for 15 minutes or so. Or make it myself.
Not that there isn’t a sense of urgency as we approach the coming season. James Parker’s recent Motorcyclist article on the declining state of our fuel reserves makes it painfully clear that the days of using fuel for fun are numbered. I’d like to think that I’ll still be doing track days ten years from now and that the only risk to attaining that goal would be my health. Not anymore. More likely, I simply won’t be able to afford the outrageous track fees that will reflect the declining participation in what by then will be a very rich man’s sport - nor the thousands of dollars it will cost me for the relatively low amount of fuel my bikes will burn in a weekend.