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Before we worry about machines becoming too human…

by Frank Buytendijk  |  January 30, 2018  |  Submit a Comment

I can’t help myself, I have to share this. On the scale of “world problems” not very high. Although, if you start thinking of this not as a single incident, but an overall business trend, worrisome nevertheless.

So I have this membership card, doesn’t really matter where – let’s protect the innocent here, and when I received a new invoice, I asked whether I could delay my membership instead of canceling, because of me moving house. No response. Two months later, a new invoice, at least they have that process under control. So I email again, referring to my earlier email, and asking again.

Now I get a response, but with an answer not relating to my question. To make a (very) long story short, it turns out my request is not a standard request. What follows is an increasingly bizarre email conversation between customer service, trying desperately to bring my strange question back to a process and a situation that is standard. And me trying even more desperately to explain what it is that I am asking.

At one moment the problem isn’t my request anymore, but the bizarre conversation itself, where I feel I am banging my head against a wall. And because it is taking that long, now an invoice for a longer period of membership. Had they responded immediately, it would have saved me 3 months of membership.

It ends – always a good move as a customer service department – with the terms and conditions (where would we be without them, wait, maybe in the land of the reasonable), and the conclusion that it is all my responsibility. Of course. No self-reflection at all about the weird communications that led to the situation.

As there are no alternative services, no competition, I pay the invoice. I need them later again, and don’t want to be on the list of persona non gratas.

So now the conversation has formalized. Which from my side leads to a complaint. The complaints department responds. Bizarroland continues. One of my complaints was that they lost my email. The response? “Without the original email, we cannot take your complaint under consideration”. Really?

Some more email conversation follows, ending in the service department sending me the terms and conditions again, and thanking me for paying the invoice. Thankfully, all is settled well, the customer paid and now is intimately aware of the smallprint, so must be happy.

I learned a lesson today. Before we worry that machines becomes too human and takes all jobs, we should worry about humans becoming too much like machines.

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Frank Buytendijk
Research VP & Fellow
10 years at Gartner
23 years IT Industry

Frank Buytendijk is a Gartner Research VP & Fellow, covering digital ethics and data & analytics. Read Full Bio




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