What about F minus?


There are undoubtedly many reasons why people choose to live in small communities, but chief among them is likely the slower pace and more “connected” feeling of small-town living. That being said, there is one aspect of life that country living doesn’t always provide relief from: technology.

I can admit that some technological advancements are cool. I am also not afraid to acknowledge that things we now take for granted – such as television and vacuum cleaners – were once “new fangled technology”. But I am not talking about the basics, I am talking about the technological advances which are so ahead of their time that they make life infinitely more difficult. Either some tech guru is playing a giant prank, or we can safely say – mission NOT accomplished in making our lives easier. Where this overtaking of technology seems to hurt the most is in the realm of customer service. A grade of “F” doesn’t seem to rate this poor customer service accurately. What about “F minus”? Yes, that sounds just right.

Example #1: Utility companies. I needed to call my cellphone company recently. Remember the joys of calling a large company and having a human answer the phone right away? To be honest, I don’t. The lovely technology of an automated system that redirects calls and puts people in queue is, admittedly, not so lovely. The message “we are currently experiencing a higher than normal volume of calls” isn’t fooling anyone. If you are always experiencing a higher than normal call volume, that’s called “normal”. And it’s a solid hint that you need to hire more people so that “valued” customers like myself don’t have to wait 45 minutes listening to music bad enough to make an elevator plug its ears.

My cellphone company has advanced even further into the realm of technology. Lucky me. They do not even publish a phone number, at least not that I can find (odd for a phone company?). Instead, you must schedule a callback by chatting online with a robot. The robot thinks it’s a genius and first tries to “help” by asking a series of questions that direct you to useless articles. Trying to convince the robot to let you talk to a non-robot resembles the plot of a psychological horror film. I have learned a tangible trick that may help readers who are in the same boat. Type “speak to a rep” in the chat. The robot will argue with you, but ignore what it says and type “speak to a rep” one more time. It works…sometimes. If it doesn’t, it may be the first sign of a robot revolution!

My cellphone company allows ONLY a scheduled callback that oftentimes will not be until the following day. If you manage to get a callback and accidentally get disconnected, the technology recognizes you as being too needy and attempts to cut the apron strings by not allowing any further calls until at least tomorrow. Forget about the customer always being right, technology is advancing so far that we are starting to pretend the customer doesn’t even exist. 

Example #2: Passwords for everything. It used to be that a login with a username and password was used only to protect sensitive information. Bank or utility company websites would use secure accounts with passwords, for example. Now, the most useless of websites seem to need your name, date of birth, and DNA of your firstborn child just to let you into the “vault” of uninspiring content. Want to convert a PDF file? Create an account. Want to view an article? Create an account. Want to check your order status of something already bought and paid for? Create an account. Want to download a template for a bingo game for your class? Create an account. Worse than the inconvenience is the insult of the website manager thinking we are all stupid. We are fully aware that the only purpose of creating an account is so that we provide our email address for them to sell to marketing companies. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that any company that spams my email address after buying my information without my permission scores very low on the trust scale, and can forget about getting my money.

Example #3: Self checkouts. I have complained about these before. I have no moral objection to new technology. An example I gave in a past article was the fact that certain jobs such as “elevator operator” have been eliminated over the years with technology, and we don’t complain. If a simple computer program can do everything the human can do, it makes financial sense to make the switch. However, we are not ready for self-checkout. The technology is frustrating, at best. There is a certain Kemptville grocery store whose selfcheckout machines are not at all user friendly. There is also a retailer in the Kemptville Mall that often has absolutely no one on cash (this is not a figure of speech, I mean NO ONE), and the only option is to pay with self-checkout. The machines are temperamental, confusing, and sometimes even insulting insofar as they lack trust out of necessity (since there is no watchful eye of an employee). I always leave that store feeling anything but happy.

Example #4: Banks. This is a short example. I’ll never forget watching an older gentleman get escorted out of a bank to be taught how to use the ATM to serve himself. He didn’t ask to learn how to use an ATM, he wanted human service. This was not a choice he was given. It was sad to see his confusion and sadness. This is a short example because it needs no explanation of why it’s an example of some of the worst customer service I have ever seen.

So what’s the verdict? Technology gets graded a solid “F minus” when it comes to replacing friendly smiles from dedicated employees. Luckily, there are still many stores in North Grenville that offer the pricelessness of human interaction. Yet another reason to shop at small, local stores. First on the shopping list? Perhaps a shiny new typewriter.


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