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Customer Care or Computer Care?

I recently required the services of an out-of-hours GP (yes, I know, silly me) only to be put through to the new NHS 111 service. My answers to the operator’s questions were duly guided through a computerised diagnostic tool and a paramedic dispatched to treat the cardiac arrest I wasn’t having. I don’t even want to contemplate what this cost the NHS but I’m guessing the difference between a paramedic being sent out to a rural area versus the patient ably making their way to a surgery to see an out-of-hours GP is quite extensive.

This made me wonder if somewhere along the course of the evolution of technology we have forgotten the very basics of customer care, which is to listen.

I knew what was wrong with me and what was the best course for my care, yet the NHS 111 operator did not listen to what I was saying and simply followed a computerised flow chart that was of no relevance to my condition.
We’ve all come across that delightful obstacle called the automated answering system, designed to drive you slightly mad. The pre-recorded voice on the end of the phone assures you that by making the correct selection from a plethora of menu options your call will be directed to the most relevant person. Really?

Professor Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, is among the growing body of researchers who are concerned that technology is not just changing the way we communicate but the very way we think. And this is problematic because contrary to popular belief the human brain has nothing in common with even the most advanced super computers. At their very basic level a computer is a binary system designed to ponder the variables of 1=TRUE and 0=FALSE. The human brain, by contrast, is a complex, ever-changing organism that sees those 50 shades of grey and chooses a better book. In order to protect itself from degeneration and the onset of dementia those higher brain functions require constant exercise that can take the form of basic decision-making (pasta or take-out for dinner?), mathematical problems (if I make £34k a year and a banker makes £2 million why do I have to pay more tax than the banker?), and the most complex of human communication (I know my wife is angry me, I can feel the frost bite forming).

By forcing complex human behaviour into a binary system we are increasingly becoming a society that no longer appears to truly care or listen. Professor Greenfield says, “With our brains now under such widespread attack from the modern world, there’s a danger that that cherished sense of self could be diminished or even lost.” [1]

So the next time you are updating your blog, writing a product description or simply replying to a customer query by email ask yourself this: Am I really providing customer care or computer care?

Katy Bellamy, Cognitive Neuroscientist

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