BY KEITH B. JONES | March 7, 2019

There’s a great scene in an awful reality TV show where Ozzy Osbourne is test driving a new car. He’s excited about the voice-enabled technology that should allow him to communicate commands and questions to the car’s OS. The car, however, can’t understand a word of Ozzy’s heavy-metal-weathered accent, and the Prince Of Darkness mumbles his way into a fit.

It. is. genius.

It’s also reflective of a growing condition in society today: consumer aggression towards technology.

The abundance of tech has rapidly transformed our’s into a world where advancements that were once “What if?” in nature are now, “How soon?”

Despite an abundance of technology aimed at making our lives easier, nothing could be more frustrating than when it doesn’t work. Or, at least, when it doesn’t work the way we’d like it to. And, man, can that boil some blood.

Is there any greater irritation than dial menus or your Lyft driver missing your exit or your iPhone freezing, again?

Ironically, the products and processes that aggravate consumers the most are actually earnest attempts (even if failing miserably) to improve customer service and streamline user experiences. Despite how sadistic is feels to be forced to “press one to be placed on hold” and wait for a representative to be with you shortly, no company actually wants to so deliberately vex its customers.

So why is technology ubiquitously fraught with problems? And what can companies do to get it right?

FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

One of the problems is that customer experience is imperative, but customer expectations are inconsistent.

Last month, I brought up Sidewalk Labs’ expected development along Toronto’s lakeshore. For all the praised advancements on the drawing board, including illuminated pedestrian/cyclist pathways, diverse mixed mobility ecosystem, weather resistant sidewalk designs, eco-friendly construction materials, and underground waste management, the technologically advanced neighborhood has still received formidable public pushback before a single shovel has broken dirt. Despite an extensive checklist of logistical challenges, the real squawk and grumble surrounds a major partner: Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

Thus, it’s not really a problem with Alphabet so much as it’s a problem with ethics: Should a Google-integrated neighborhood allow the tech giant to access such intimate personal micro data as our favorite time to take a stroll or what things we throw away?

Public skepticism is based around the ambiguity of Alphabet’s intent-of-use with the data of our daily lives. Consumers don’t even know what they’re capable of doing with the data, and no one on the development side can say who would actually own it.

This is an obvious recipe for disaster. But Sidewalk Labs is addressing the issue constructively, meeting person-to-person with members of the public to discuss and solve the (still hypothetical) problems as symbiotically as possible. That personal interaction might be their saving grace.

CHANGE IS GOOD. UNTIL IT’S NOT.

Consumer aggression towards technology is also driven by change. People tend to like the idea of change more than change itself.

For instance, it seems like every time Facebook updates its interface, half the internet throws up their arms in protest. You probably remember seeing Facebook groups and polls petitioning the most popular social media in the world to change back to “the old version.” Yet you probably don’t even remember what the old version was like.

That said, Facebook doesn’t exactly have the best track record of actively working to solve consumer problems with interpersonal effort. Perhaps that’s why, even if it’s the most widely used social platform, it’s the least trusted.

When it comes to mobility, the change factor couldn’t be more hot than with Lime, Bird, and other dockless scooters and bikes. While Lyft, Uber, and other companies try to push their way into the market, thousands of people in cities across the country are trying to throw them out. Often times, quite literally.


What tends to follow the arrival of dockless scooters are lawsuits and cease-and-desist orders. The ire is understandable. Scooters tend to cruise recklessly in trafficked streets, weave hazardously between pedestrians on sidewalks, chaotically accumulate all over the place, and become the target of visually un-appealing vandalism.

I think most local governments recognize the value dockless bikes and scooters add to last mile mobility; and city to city they’re certainly more popular than not. But they’re new. They deviate from the norm. And until relatively recently, they’ve been mostly unregulated.

Bird does a great job helping users past technological difficulties, often refunding charges or awarding credit. But if the company wants to be equally well received by non-users and governments alike, it needs to do a better job of meeting expectations for collaboration, cooperation, and control.

SOLVING CONSUMER AGGRESSION

People engage the concepts of Tomorrowland when technology stops working today. And so, to solve consumer aggression requires a committed effort to understand expectations and be flexible enough to meet them. When automation doesn’t work, an actual person must be there to solve the problem.

Bank tellers, for instance, are finding new responsibilities (and job security) as customer service experts because, as pointed out by Bloomberg, “There’s high tolerance for self-service until it fails, then there’s no tolerance.” That’s to say, when there’s a problem with online banking, people are forced to choose between dialing their way through a numerical labyrinth of automated menu times or speaking directly with a helpful human.

Most people want the human.

It’s no different in the parking industry.

Customers will inevitably experience issues with payment systems and parking policies. But they might also ask for directions around town or help using mobile apps. Parking attendants and managers should be trained enough to handle these new expectations.

Because, with rapidly elevating standards for customer experience, it’s a must that we work to ensure our employees, products and services meet consumer ideals, and that we be there for them when they don’t.

FINAL THOUGHTS

– Consumer aggression results from a lack of knowledge, expectation, and interaction with representatives/employees.

– However, expectations are not always consistent.

– As new expectations emerge, we need to find new ways to meet them.

– The role of employees in many industries is changing to be both service providers and problem solvers.

– Ozzy Osbourne honestly can’t expect too much from voice activation technology.

“Ace Mobility Solutions isn’t just a business. It’s the Mobility Revolution in action.”

Keith B. Jones
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