online: 11 october 2003

10 october 2003 complaining about the system

20:50 From my journal:

...Today I survived an initially angry exchange with local government employees (they don't appear to have a conception of service - only of following rules)...

...Eventually I reached a 'real person' (a 'responsible person' would be a better description) in the new communications department about which I wanted to complain. She gave me the name of the person who is responsible for making the new telephone queueing system work properly - and I said 'poor man' - at which she laughed. She thanked me for being humourous about the impersonal system that she too dislikes but which they are expected to support and to operate. All she could say in reply to my complaint (about the much increased time it takes to reach an informed person) was that they know they are giving a poor service at present but that they are working on it...

At least I overcame my anger.

I realised that to make any helpful suggestions take root amidst such a bad situation requires energy and time I do not have if my writing, and surviving, are to proceed...

...I'm enjoying writing this - though I don't like leaving unhelped an existing system that I think I know how to improve. But life is composed of such systems!... I'll stick to my writing, about the totality, if I possibly can, now that at last I have the medium (this public writing place), the time, the freedom, and the experience to attend to it. Daffodil 23 was I think a right start - though I doubted as I wrote it...

I decide to copy this into the digital diary - that will give it some hope of being read and acted upon by someone, somewhere, sometime, who isin a position to react.

22:02 As I copied that from my journal I remembered many occasions when I've been driven, by telephone queueing systems, to complain of what seem to me a public insult to everyone, a design fault that is as great as it is difficult to correct - for the whole industrialised world is committed to queueing systems and to call centres and such and they seem, at first thought, to deny the essential flexibility that I and others perceive in 'the phone' and 'the computer'. Hmm.

Am I wrong to resist these mechanistic developments? Is it possible that the queueing system and the call centre are the crude semi-mechanical beginnings of entirely automatic public services that will evolve before long? I suspect this is so - and to support this idea I will quote from one of my fictions:

...All you need is the keypad. That is what the bureaucracy at Brussels, and then all the other bureaucracies, are reduced to, just a keypad for everyone to direct her/his wish. Eurobot, eurobot, it's the new Aladdin's lamp...
...the idea of replacing the Commissioners at Brussels (and their associated civil servants and parliamentarians) by a single keypad available everywhere came when the duck (me) noticed that the telephone company has now started to give everyone the chance to employ a primitive robot (or avatar of her- or him- self) to redial busy numbers automatically and to reply with three rings when connected. (I was seeing in that the beginning of intelligent telephones.) To operate this magic service all you do is dial 5 ... the first robotic manifestation of the creative democracy of everyone...*

Well, even the writer has forgotten that moment of insight - but now it's revived he believes it! The way out is through.

Given that, the next step is to redesign the semi-automatic system to put callers first in touch with intelligent public servants working with personal discretion - and only second to rule-following employees, option lists, voice recognition, etc. Any caller whose needs seem too complex to be left to the automatic part of the system should be given human guidance throughout the call! Those with straight-forward needs and network skills should be guaranteed a quicker service by the automatic channel**. At the end of a call everyone should feel helped, not obstructed!

*the internet and everyone, ellipsis/Batsford Books, London 200, pages 552-553.

**This proposal comes of research by Robin Roy when he studied access to public service systems at the course in design technology for which I was responsible in the 1960s.

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