• Ark Wingrove

All 'Automated' Apologies

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

What's the value of a 'synthetic sorry'?

I recently found myself waiting for a delayed train. Whilst on the platform I started to notice the recorded 'sorry' announcements at regular intervals; "sorry your train is delayed/cancelled/crowded due to an earlier incident".

With 40 minutes to wait I started counting the 'synthetic sorry's'. In that time, there were a total of 62 'sorry's' - all of them pre-recorded and automated by the Customer Information System. The only variance was that some were a female voice and some male; both somewhat insincere, but at least inclusive.

I had plenty of time to think about the situation and also to watch the staff on the platform, who were all very busy. They had no time to be sorry and none of them worked for any of the three train companies serving that station anyway. Customers didn't seem to notice the announcements either, asking staff about the delays whilst ignoring the announcements.

So here are my 'wonderings':

• Who was actually, really and meaningfully sorry?

• Is poor performance 'normalised' by this kind of automation (both for staff and customers)?

In addition, the link to causality seems to be getting lost for the customer, citizen or consumer; 'an incident' is a bit like the 'general failure' maintenance code that we try so hard to eliminate from our maintenance management (CMMS) systems. It doesn't tell us anything worth knowing.

If the much-heralded 'industry 4.0' just turns out to be the better automation of 'sorry' (perhaps with still more voices and intonations to enhance sincerity), then we're not really making any progress.

So what can we do?

How can our 'smart cities' better inform the customer?

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