The fallacy of automation

I read with interest an article about Optus regarding their struggle for a coherent vision. As a former employee of Optus, it was of interest and some of the analysis was interesting. You can read it here.

However, in one throwaway line, the writer eroded any credibility they have in commentating on corporate vision and service delivery:

iiNet proved that humans can be better at customers service than machines — people like talking to other people. However, the amount of effort required to provide that level of service is arguably unsustainable at Optus’ scale.

This is arguably the view shared in Dilbert:

What’s the real problem?

The has been a fallacy for a number of years that automation could provide better customer service than humans. The fundamental flaw in this argument is what the true problem is for providing customer service: that the internal systems are frankly terrible.

When corporates commit to ‘automation’ programs, they realise they needed to fix the underlying systems even to allow them to be ‘automated’. If a computer/logic flow couldn’t solve it, how on earth could a human?

Unfortunately, in most cases, it is ‘more profitable’ to throw more customer staff at the problem (who will become frustrated and quickly leave) and accept customer churn.

Billing anyone?

As one example, Optus’s antiquated billing system required new products to be committed 9 months before they could be released. What this meant is that a End of Year promotion would need to be confirmed in February. Let alone trying to make a change on a customers details.

There are companies now like Monexa and Zuora that change that paradigm from 9 months to 9 minutes.

I have the scars of running billing systems and their integration. It is not easy. However, this is the hard work that an Optus needs to focus on now to remain competitive.

Customer Service needs to the vision

There has been a lot said about putting the customer at the heart of a corporate strategy. In the case of Optus, unless they fix their internal systems so that they can give the customer what they want in terms of product and support, any other vision they pursue will be useless.

Originally published at