The Real Problem with Virtual Assistants

Neatstep parking comic - the virtual customer service assistant

I’ve always felt that the modern world relies too much on technology. This belief stems from my early involvement in the world of computers. In fact, I once wrote a book on that subject but never had the time or inclination to publish it.

Before the internet, most services were conducted by mail, telephone, or in-person contact with real persons. When people refer to “the good old days” there are understandable reasons for that. Fast forward and life has radically changed. Nowadays, getting to talk with a real person is like hitting the lottery jackpot. Even better is encountering a real person located in your own country.

Nowadays, real people have been replaced by virtual assistants that have become extremely popular and widespread just like a virus. You can ask a virtual assistant anything you like, whether online or by telephone and you will likely receive one of the standard responses. You will either get referred back to the website from where you have just come, or you will be referred to a telephone number where you can enjoy the same web of confusion. At the end of the day, a virtual assistant will probably not reveal anything you don’t already know but it will likely increase your level of frustration.

It seems to me there are two major reasons for the introduction of virtual assistants – a shortage of staff and a desire for greater efficiency. Customer satisfaction does not appear to factor into this equation. For my part, I consider it to be a game of “us” versus “them”. The object of the game is to trick the system into giving you the information you need. As a long-time computer specialist, I manage pretty well but I feel sorry for most people who don’t have the time or the patience to outlast the system. Like it or not, we are now living in a virtual world. Welcome to the future!

In this comic, Neatstep tries unsuccessfully to navigate the fully automated help center.