At a train station a few weeks ago I hit a wall of bureaucracy that enraged me beyond my usual breaking point. I had booked a ticket on the web, and at the collection machines, I was issued only half of the tickets (no, this isn’t my breaking point…).
At the ticket office, a Southern trains employee was initially helpful – he gave me the missing tickets. However, when I pointed out that I didn’t think they were the right tickets, he told me that web bookings were handled by a different company, so he couldn’t help.
If that’s true, how could he even issue the tickets?
The problem I encountered may be twofold:
- as a customer I unknowingly used different legal entity when I booked on the web (confused by the use of an identical brand!), and….
- the employee may be boxed in by software, so that he cannot help even if he wanted to.
This incident has made me think about how customer experience worked before employees and customers had computers (mostly before my time then…). A few questions….
- How rigid were the rules for employees regarding customers? If rules were on paper or communicated verbally, were they more or less likely to be followed?
- Were interactions slower? Presumably. Did customers even expect speedy responses?
- What about the quality of the interactions? I wonder whether working from a computer means that employees are less empathetic (because you’re referring to a binary system, rather making qualitative judgements yourself).
- How does computerisation change the motivations for employees? If interactions are recorded in binary form, does it change the way they react to customers?
The cynical me is tempted to think that whoever codified the rules governing the issue of tickets in software saw an opportunity to reduce the chance of employees giving them away. In my case, there are unintended consequences; the honest customer is being punished at the expense of risk avoidance.
It may even be that this risk has been calculated; who knows. The only thing I can say with certainty is that the anger I felt would have instantly killed any prospect of future purchases were trains a free market (but of course, they are not).
Despite the cynical thoughts, I’m left with a feeling that computerization may be inadvertently narrowing the way employees can think and respond to customers. I wonder what Kafka would have to say about our modern digital life. I’d love to see a study about it (I couldn’t find one…).