All Things May Pass — Except The Need For Humans

how a mission to watch a documentary reminded me of what is and will always be necessary in business and in life

A few weeks ago I was on a mission to watch All Things Must Pass, a documentary directed by Colin Hanks about the rise and fall of Tower Records. It had been on my to-do list for ages but it wasn’t until now, two years after the film was released that I was getting around to watching it. I did my research and discovered it was available on Showtime. However, I couldn’t find it on Showtime on Demand through my cable box so I did what I find myself doing more and more lately, opening my laptop and signing on to Showtime Anytime. At least I tried to.

In order to do that I needed to sign in through Spectrum, formerly Time Warner Cable in NYC, but I kept getting a prompt that said, “We are unable to complete your request at this time due to a system error. Please try again later.” I kept trying and it kept not working. Since I was on Safari I thought it might be a cookie issue so I checked to make sure they were enabled for the site.

Still no access.

I tried everything I could do to avoid the inevitable — calling the cable company and seeing if customer service could help me.

And then I had to.

I took a few deep breaths and I dialed.

Before anything I was greeted with an advertisement for the Mayweather-MacGregor fight that was going to be on Pay-Per-View in a few days. That was followed by a bot disguising herself as a human who kept asking me questions about my reason for calling starting with whether I was calling to upgrade my service. Unfortunately none of the options she was giving me fit my problem. I tried pressing the O button hoping it would fast forward me to a human but the bot kept telling me she couldn’t understand what I was saying and then would rewind herself to her original questions and start all over again.

I was quickly losing patience and started yelling at the bot as if that would make a difference. When I finally got a real person on the phone she was quite pleasant, told me she understood my frustration and told me she would help me but she would first have to transfer me to the Internet people. She put me on hold and a few minutes later I was disconnected.

While my patience was thinning my determination to solve the issue and watch this movie was only increasing. Once again, the call started with the Pay-Per-View ad only this time when I tried to override the Artificial Intelligence I got a longer version of the advertisement.

By the time I did get a human on the phone I was so frustrated and angry that I made the rep listen to me complain. I told her my problem and she proceeded to help me sort it out. Twenty-six minutes and forty-seven seconds later we discovered if I signed on through Google Chrome instead of Safari my password and user id worked. I literally smacked my head. I should have thought of that solution in the beginning, but then again that prompt I got when this all started should have told me to try another browser instead of the “system error” message I had been getting. (We call that bad user experience in marketing)

I eventually got to see my movie that night which I will add was definitely worth all the effort. It also reinforced what’s missing when it comes to customer service and the increased use of AI. The answer is humans.

Let me explain. If you’re old enough you’ll remember that Tower Records was more than a record store, it was a place you went to not just discover music, but to be in the presence of it. Their message was simple. No Music. No Life.

Its humble beginnings began in the back of a drugstore in Sacramento in 1960 and grew at its height in 1999 to a global empire with $1 billion in revenue. While an entire case study could be written on how like many in the record business, they ignored the impact the Internet was having on the industry and did nothing to adapt which eventually led to the chain filing bankruptcy in 2006, the big lesson is that Tower Records was successful for many years because it was a business built by people who helped to create a community linked by a passion for music — pretty much exactly what we try to do with brands online today. They even created branded content in the form of Pulse Magazine before we called it branded content.

Russ Solomon who founded the company surrounded himself with people who were passionate and knowledgeable about their business. They loved their jobs and the music and were just as responsible as anything for growing it into the mega success it became. There were no bots or algorithms that said if you like Bruce Springsteen you might like Bon Jovi. There were people who were well trained and because they were humans they might also suggest you try something completely different and lead you to the aisle that sold Al Jarreau. The people who worked there endeared you to the brand.

My frustrating experience with Spectrum’s customer service did nothing to endear me to that company. In fact it did just the opposite and made me pause once again to consider if I should soon join the ranks of the 22 million people who have chosen to cut the cord to their cable in 2017. It also reminded me — once again — that no matter how digitized we become humans are still key to business and no matter how “smart” we may think AI will get, real human interaction will never be replicated by machine.

No music no life. No humans no business.

Originally published at joanne tombrakos.