One of the things that annoys me no end about life in Britain is the feeling of being treated like a number. Obviously we’re all numbers in one way or another, we all feature in countless anonymous lists in databases held by our bank, our GP, our supermarket, our hairdresser, we’re all insignificant rows of data stuck in endless spreadsheets stored on computers around the globe, but where Britain excels is in taking our insignificance from a matter of practical and anonymous treatment of data to the cold and impersonal treatment of human beings.
This country has lost it’s personal touch. You are reminded of this every time an emotionless voice calls out ‘next’ from the other side of a counter (if it’s not a machine telling you which counter to go to) or your GP talks to you like she’s never seen you before even though you’ve been going there for years. You seek into her eyes for a lapse of recognition but all you find is the same personal touch you would expect a factory worker to dedicate to every identical piece in an assembly line.
We’re all moving through life as though on a conveyor belt where we are not talked to but merely dealt with.
No one makes you more aware of this than large corporations. The last one to remind me of this was O2, my network operator.
It is with some embarrassment that i must admit to being one of those people who were standing in line outside O2 stores around the country a couple of days ago to buy the new iPhone 4. I will not defend this decision: if you want to judge me for it, go right ahead.
But the day after this painful queuing experience I had another reminder of the conveyor belt under my feet when I was contacted for a customer satisfaction survey. By a computer.
Ok, maybe it’s not that shocking, but it is at least ironic. I’m sitting at my desk having a text conversation with a computer to tell it how happy I was with my impersonal experience at the O2 store.
Here’s how it went:
O2: Hi it’s O2. Thanks for shopping with us. We’d like to ask you 4 quick questions to help us improve. Your texts back to us are free.
Q1 of 4: How likely are you to recommend the O2 store? Rate on a scale of 1-5 where 1 is ‘not at all likely’ and 5 is ‘very likely’. (Just text one number)
Overall it wasn’t a positive experience, the woman that eventually helped me gave me wrong information and kept me longer than necessary through making a series of errors in the procedure. Considering I was the 50th customer that morning going through the same process and she’s been around at least since she sold me my old phone about 2 years ago, I wasn’t impressed by her competence and thought I wasn’t likely to advise people to go to the O2 store.
O2: Thanks. Q2 of 4: How much did you trust our assistant’s advice? Rate on a scale of 1-5 where 1 is ‘not at all’ and 5 is ‘fully trusted’. (Just text one number.)
O2: Thanks again. Q3 of 4: During your visit were you greeted or acknowledged within a reasonable amount of time? (Text 1 for no and 2 for yes)
This didn’t fully apply but considering that initially the O2 guy that came out of the shop only spoke to people at the front of the queue and shrugged when people further down the line shouted to him that they couldn’t hear him, I thought this might amount to not acknowledging us within a reasonable amount of time.
O2: Thanks again. Q4 of 4: How well did they understand your needs? Rate on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is ‘very poor’ and 5 is ‘excellent’ (Just text one number)
I needed to buy an iPhone like the other 100 people there. The staff discerningly understood our need: we needed to buy an iPhone. However perceptive that was, I was still not impressed.
O2: Finally, what could we do to improve your visit to the O2 store? Please text your comments. And thanks again for your time.
Here I thought for a minute: they’re actually making an effort to find out what they can do to improve their service. I was positively impressed and decided to give them proper feedback.
Me: Train your staff better. Enable pre-ordering of new iPhone models to not keep people queuing for hours on end or at least organise better queuing systems and prepare to look after users who, after queuing for hours, will not have managed to secure a new phone. Staff had to be persuaded by queuing customers to collect names and emails to notify of new deliveries of phone. Staff’s first suggestion was to simply turn up randomly any hour of any day to see if there had been a delivery. Try to show you care about your customers’ satisfaction.
What was their answer?
O2: Sorry, responses are no longer being accepted for this survey.
Computer says no. You’ve been T5’ed!
Note: In case someone is wondering, I did reply right away. It only took me the time it takes to type that response.