Like it or not, automation has touched our lives in so many ways. If you’ve ever pressed “0” to talk to the operator, used an ATM, or switched the headlights in your car to “auto” you have benefited from automation. During those times, we know we’re interacting with a machine. What about the times when we don’t know? Or when we switch from interacting with a robot to interacting with a real live human being? Does how we behave matter during those interactions?
I think that it matters a lot, and if you think about it I bet you think that as well. Imagine, if you will, that you’re calling your school feeling pretty stressed out because there’s been some kind of a hang-up with your financial aid. The first thing you interact with is a phone menu and you accidentally press the wrong number, getting routed to a department that can’t actually help you. You call back, maybe say a few choice words to the phone menu this time and you press the right number. You get a live human being who has to ask you a few questions. She wants to make sure she’s giving you the most accurate information possible, and financial aid, when combined with veteran benefits, can be pretty convoluted. She thanks you for providing the information and you, having just come from a situation where it didn’t matter how you act and feeling frustrated already, begin to swear at the woman helping you. You attack her for her presumptuous attitude. The woman hangs up on you.
You are not at all closer to figuring out what’s going on with your financial aid. Your anger and frustration blinded you to someone who was trying to help you. The woman (who was me in this real situation) has had her confidence shaken and spends the rest of the day feeling little or no interest in helping any other student for the entire day because her day opened with being called a “fucking dummy.”
This situation, and countless others like it that I’ve encountered in my life as a higher education professional and as someone who is also the customer during many customer service interactions, leads me to believe that people of integrity will treat others (regardless of their perceived sentience) with respect and dignity. It’s like Oprah said, “real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” Working hard to approach each encounter with respect is the right thing to do, whether anybody knows it or not.