Degrees of digital separation

Whenever we get a new tool we tend to over use it. We’re excited by the possibilities, enjoy the novelty, and want to explore its potential.

I think we’re at that point with our relationship with algorithms. The danger is that when we overstretch, the damage we cause to a relationship moves beyond the digital into the Human. Small issues get magnified.

I had occasion today to cancel a gym membership with a large international chain whose membership management is outsourced to another large international chain, so I already have two degrees of separation.

I had a query, so chose to call rather than engage with a cumbersome web site, and got through to the usual number roulette. Unusually, all their operators were very busy, but a I was assured I would have to wait no more than 2 mins 19 seconds. Not a few minutes – 2 mins 19 seconds. I was then subjected to a recording of other ways to contact them. I now had apparently 19 seconds to wait. Three degrees of separation.

I then got through to a human. Perfectly polite, but following a tightly defined protocol. A process, not a conversation. Four degrees of separation.

Problem resolved. Less than 10 minutes. No engagement.

UX is a huge area, but quite static. A digital (or script based) interaction is designed at a moment in time based on an average customer .

But time moves on, and none of us are average.

In the end, I got what I wanted from the transaction, but the opportunity to engage was entirely missed by protocols designed to maximise efficiency and minimise risk.

What could have been a conversation that would have yielded both key information (why was I cancelling) as well as sustaining a recoverable relationship was converted to an uninspiring exchange by a proxy of the people with whom a ten year relationship had just ended.

Quite a price to pay for efficiency I thought.

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