Umbrage against the machine — The return of humans — Paul English

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Paul English

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Paul English

From Re/code

As humans, we crave contact with one another. From tiny newborn babies who need their mothers, to the elderly who long for their children, throughout all stages of our lives, we reach for each other. It’s always been this way. Technology can’t replace the very thing that makes us human.

Many years ago, I was left to care for my dad, who had early-stage Alzheimer’s. One of the first things I had to do was take away his car, as his driving had become dangerous. This was difficult. My Dad was a “car guy,” and he had taught me everything I know about cars — it was a love we shared together. Taking away his car left him incredibly isolated; he would try to call his friends during the day, only to be confused by answering machines that sounded like humans. Sometimes, Dad would even call companies who sent him bills, claiming he had questions, but really, I think he just wanted to reach out to another person. Again, he was foiled by the machines who told him to press 1 for this, and press 2 for that, always finding ways to keep him from connecting with an actual human.

As a response to this, I started GetHuman, a website that allows customers to call real people at big companies without having to wait on the line or go through a million robots. Today, GetHuman.com receives millions of visitors a month, helping people with customer service issues at places like Verizon and Comcast.

The intersection of human contact and customer service has reemerged often in my career in technology, and while companies change, the theme remains. As the CTO and co-founder of Kayak, I managed all the customer emails for the first few months. I would relay a lot of issues to our engineers, but so much is lost via email that eventually I found a bright-red phone with a loud mechanical ringer, put it on my desk, and put its phone number on Kayak’s help pages.

Read the full post at Re/code.

Paul English is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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