Automation isn’t about giving in to the robots
With the constant digital presence in our lives, humans are in danger of losing touch with everyday human interactions Image Credit: ©Gulf News

Am I the only one who seems perplexed at times when dealing with this new age of digitisation? A world where automation has seemed to replace human interaction? My recent experience would certainly suggest so.

A few days ago, I received a message on my phone about a purchase that was charged against my credit card with a moderate amount in dollars. Now I knew I had not purchased anything recently and particularly from this merchant who happened to be in the UK. I had not been to the UK for some time and neither did I order anything online from this establishment.

As my bank branch was down the street, I decided to take a short diversion from my intended journey and visit them to investigate the charges. The bank was overly crowded as it was during lunch hours and customers were taking their breaks from work to run a quick stop at the bank.

Taking a ticket, I waited in line for the first available customer service agent. After a 20-minute wait, it was my turn and as I sat across from the bank agent, I began to detail to him my reason for coming, and pulling out my phone I showed him the message I had received earlier.

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He listened briefly before cutting me short and handing me a small slip of paper with a phone number on it. “You have to call this number to find out what happened and reverse the charges if all is well,” he said appearing to seek the next client.

Getting nowhere with automated response

Exasperated, I retorted, “Now wait a minute. I came to this bank because this is the bank that issued me the credit card. And now you tell me that if I have a problem, I should call a number? Why don’t you pull my account on the screen in front of you and clear the matter up so I can go on my way?

With a stone face, he replied that this was the bank procedure and he couldn’t do anything about it. I decided to drop in on the branch manager but he happened to be out for lunch.

So, with the option of either waiting for the time that the manager took for lunch (depending on his appetite), or going on my way and calling the phone number on the slip of paper, I decided to take the latter route.

Later in the day, I decided to call the number. I dialled and a recording popped up asking me the language option. I pressed the number for English and another menu popped up with a whole list of services. Unfortunately, none of the items on the menu pertained to my issue.

I tried various means to reach a human on the other side of the line but all efforts failed with the phone cutting off on more than one occasion. Finally, after more than a half-hour of getting nowhere, I gave up. It was now too late to get back to the bank so I made it a point to drop in first thing in the morning and visit them. Only this time I was headed straight to the manager’s office.

The manager who sat me down and offered me a cup of coffee before I began to explain my dilemma. I told him step by step what had happened the day before and my futile attempts after going through the recording menu to correct the charges on my credit card.

Can I talk to a real person?

And I also told him that there was no way I could reach a human on the other side of the line to explain the situation. “You should have chosen the ‘lost card’ option and an agent would have responded,” he told me.

“I just have an unauthorised charge against it that I want to correct,” I replied. “I understand, but that’s the way the system is set up as a lost card will immediately generate action,” he replied soothingly. “You’ll have to try again, only this time choose the lost card option. An agent will come online and he will take care of your problem”, he said. By that point, I swore to myself silently that I was going to move my account elsewhere.

On the drive back I reflected on my experience. With this constant digital presence in our lives, we are in danger of losing touch with everyday human interactions. Customers want to talk to a real person who can understand their problem and help them resolve it. However, many companies have replaced their customer service agents with automated systems, leaving customers feeling frustrated.

We are being pushed to access other people through technology that we don’t feel as connected when we talk face-to-face. We’ve forgotten how to empathise because we rarely hear each other’s voices without the filter of a recording, a text, or an email beforehand. And as far as I can see it, it’s only going to get worse.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena