COVID-19 shows up tech progress
After conveniently weaselling their way into my life, delivery apps have recently forced me to head back to the brick-and-mortar store.
After numerous failed attempts to place orders with Amazon Prime and similar attempts with Instacart repeatedly met with the automated message, “Oops, no times are available”, I am left with no choice – and I am far from alone. Apps suspended, websites down, reduced quality, poor customer service: what is going on in the world of business?
The upsurge in internet traffic sparked by COVID-19 should be a dream come true for online companies – an opportunity to gain customers and grow their business, handed to them on a plate. Instead, what we are witnessing is a scene of utter chaos.
Rather than pulling out all the stops and devising innovative ways to meet demand and overcome challenges, tech-reliant companies appear to be in panic mode. Stretched and overloaded, their services are starting to buckle under the strain, leaving customers frustrated and employees experiencing burnout.
Pre-virus, the world seemed to be heading towards a bright future fuelled by AI and technological advancement. But right now, it feels like we can’t even get the basics right.
String of disappointments
A string of recent examples serves as a wakeup call to all of us: when it comes to technology, we are not as strong as we thought we were. Mere weeks ago, Netflix and YouTube were two poster children of the tech world, but now, with capacity maxed out, both companies have resorted to reducing their streaming quality in Europe to cope with demand.
Sure, COVID-19 has thrown business a curve ball, but such companies have global reach and capacity to match, don’t they?
As for e-commerce, my inability to secure a delivery date for Amazon Prime illustrates how even tech giants are failing to maintain business as usual (and prompts me to question why I’m paying for the premium service!). And the trend continues with virtually every other e-commerce site out there.
Enter a website and you will be met with cautionary messages to consumers. They range from pre-emptive excuses - ‘We are experiencing particularly high demand’ - to blunt and unapologetic statements: ‘Unavailable’, ‘Out of stock’, ‘Try again later.’
Pivot to brick-and-mortar
As my grocery experience attests, online grocery shopping is faring poorly too, and there is an irony here that is hard to miss: the businesses now coming up trumps are the local corner shops. They don’t run out of stock. They don’t ask you try again later. They deliver – and technology is nowhere to be seen.
The crisis of COVID-19 is driving customers online in droves, but I can’t help thinking that once this is all over, many people will be left with a sour taste. From weak streaming to frustrating shopping, customers are experiencing shoddy service from some of the biggest tech-related firms on the planet – often with no apology, no compensation and no alternative solution.
I can’t help but wonder will we see a post COVID-19 tech revolution or a local renaissance
In this time of unprecedented crisis, we have no choice but to take it – but when life returns to normal, don’t be surprised if customers start voting with their clicks.
But the problem goes further than customer service. COVID-19 is making it glaringly apparent that we have overestimated our technological capacity and underestimated its importance to meeting society’s needs – especially when times get tough.
To truly make the most of the incredible technologies that are out there, we need investment and capacity that reflect what could be, not what is.
As a tech dependent society, we are rudely confronted with its inability to meet our needs in a time we need it most. Instead of making our lives easier, the inability to deliver is driving us back to the neighbourhood conveniences.
I can’t help but wonder will we see a post COVID-19 tech revolution or a local renaissance. We won’t know for months. Hopefully the tech world will rapidly deploy its billions in profits in order to serve the dependent customers like me.
- Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership, and author of "Leadership Dubai Style". Contact him at email@example.com.