“It doesn’t get any easier than this” – quote from StarHub website ad. Really? Then I know a lot of people destined to suffer high blood pressure, possibly even a seizure. We are not all techies. Many of us do not understand most of the techie jargon, especially that invented in the last seven days. We need simple language, guidance that bears a passing resemblance to what we see on the screen and someone to talk to if it all goes pear-shaped. You may feel the same?
I called Barclays Bank Expert Helpline recently. Their web site for banking transactions looked very odd and we have been warned to watch out for scams. I got a most helpful, sympathetic lady who said “Why not try typing (so-and-so) into Google Search?” “Oh,” I replied, “I’ve never heard of that before. Are you sure it’s right?” “Well, I always use it myself,” she said, “and it seems to work for me.” As an exercise in confidence building it left a little to be desired. In any case, it didn’t work.
Some of the websites I try to access are downright awful. They are out of date, with inaccurate phone numbers, helplines designed like a prison camp perimeter fence and call centres where the staff passed their English exams by means it is unworthy to imagine. To be fair, they are usually of Hebrew Job’s model of patience and their response to a fulminating old fart like me is one of angelic kindness. Nevertheless, I really don’t want to hear again “Press the BLUE pin on the dongle twice when the secret number appears, capture the number and insert it where it has to be.” I need to understand where it has to be, you see.
Digitisation is bringing with it impersonality never before imagined. Algorithms of incredible sophistication of voice, face and goodness-knows-what-else recognition have learnt to respond just like a human being. They even wish you a good day, though whether they mean it is uncertain. They know what questions you are going to ask. Only in my case they don’t. In their struggle to deal with an unanticipated request they get the equivalent of their underwear in a twist. In order to prove their infallibility – yes, they are competing with the Vatican – they produce any answer they think I will accept. From that moment on we are on a course to hell. Not ‘we’ but ‘me’.
Time to call a halt. Time to look at instructions, helplines, FAQs and algorithmic response from the lay person’s point of view. Time to use words people understand. Time to do more than suggest this. Time to impose it. Don’t you agree? If you do, protest the next time you don’t understand something. Protest to the boss not the complaints department. ‘Complaints’ are there to fob you off. The Boss is there to hang onto his job. He will respond. If be doesn’t, broadcast the fact. He’ll respond pretty quickly then.
We want to have as good (or better) instructions as we had when a human being who knew his or her craft explained where the needle went and how the cotton behaved. We want instructions that begin by telling us where we are not by assuming that we’ve been there before. We haven’t. We want the right directions for this model not for a range of 600 models of which we may have one.
Above all we want clear, crisp, well-pronounced words with opportunities to interrupt and say we don’t understand. You know, the kind of thing a person used to be. Lucid, articulate, pacing themselves to the client not to a time clock.
Just like a human being, actually.
Weren’t they wonderful?