Corporate America wants it both ways. They are hell bent on making it extremely difficult for you to engage human-to-human, while pushing employees to act (inappropriately), like you’re best buds.

I have heard of the Internet.  Even use it on occasion.  When I call a corporate support line, it means that I have exhausted the available online help options, or have an issue that I know the online options cannot help me solve.  Thus, I do not need to be told that I can retrieve my password online, or have the bot offer to text me links to online help that I don’t need. I dialed your number. That means I need to speak to someone.  When I say “agent” or “representative” into the phone, I do not want to be ignored as the bot cheerily provides me with yet more useless information.

When, having hit the “0” button 50 times and shouted “agent” and “representative,” in multiple languages the machine finally allows me to speak to a human several oceans away, the only thing I want to hear is, “how can I help you?”  I don’t want him or her to inquire about how my day is going, or query the state of my general wellbeing.  I am under no illusion that they care, especially when they cover three separate pauses in the same conversation with the scripted “how are you doing today?” clearly having forgotten they’d asked twice before.

This same dynamic functions at your local grocer. They’re trying to funnel you to self-service checkout, an abomination by another name, wherein you pay for the privilege of doing the store’s work for them, where placing a bag on the counter provokes a mechanical voice to shriek, “Unexpected item in the bagging area,” as the machine does the equivalent of pulling its hair out, freezes, forcing you to grab a worker’s attention to sooth the troubled beast, or give up, leave the groceries at the freak-out machine and head for the car resigned to a dinner of cereal.

Meanwhile, the actual checkout people have been scripted to ask inappropriately personal questions, like, “Do you have any big plans for the weekend?”

WTF?

Unless they’re stalkers or thieves, they really shouldn’t care. In what universe do you discuss your daily plans with complete strangers while a line forms behind you? And how are those who aren’t enthusiastic over-sharers supposed to respond?  I’ve looked at them like they’re insane with a curt “no,” but I really want to ask who told them to ask me that, when a simple “hello” would have been more than sufficient.

It seems our corporate overlords are doing everything they can to remove the human equation—and thus another paycheck—from the value chain. I guess the idea is to make the remaining human exchanges so magnificently awkward that we long for the comfort of a one-on-one with a chat bot.

Leonce Gaiter, Vice President, Content & Strategy