People hate robots | Ticket Offices, KLM and the NHS

There is a big campaign building against plans to close Railway Station ticket offices, and replace them with self service machines instead.

When people talk about automation replacing human workers automatically we think of robots building cars at Nissan, but in fact it is more likely to self service check outs and ticket machines replacing humans.

A few weeks ago I was stuck at Schipol for 28 hours. KLM were dreadful, and still haven’t processed my compensation claim. I was directed to a self service machine that would help me rep-book my flight automatically. There was only one KLM member of staff on duty and all they would do is hand out leaflets advising us to go to and sort out a hotel and they would re-imburse us (they didn’t).

The machine automatically re-booked me on a flight to Frankfurt to catch a flight from there to Newcastle. A flight which KLM already knew would be cancelled. The only people who did reach out and try to help were Nigerian internet fraudsters who were impersonating KLM. It takes some going to be have worse customer service than the internet fraudsters

People like talking to humans, not machines. All across the economy people want to interact with people, or consume “craft” products with a higher labour input. We hate being fobbed off with machines and algorithms, most of which don’t work, or produce perverse results

This matters because the NHS is still in an existential crisis. Ministers still claim that there are efficiency gains to be realised by automation and use of technology. We have been here before. In 2015 Department of Health announced digital transformation could save the NHS £10bn by 2020. Three years after the deadline it is hard to see any such savings.

What they don’t get is that what looks like efficiency and automation to a manager looks like a crap service with worse outcomes for patients. Less time with Doctors and Nurses, more time on apps or websites is worse for patients, not efficiency. It is no different to the endless leaflets that decorate every GP surgery in the UK, none of which are ever read.

3 thoughts on “People hate robots | Ticket Offices, KLM and the NHS

  1. My first job was a clerical role in the NHS, back when patient files were on paper – we would get a list on ten or so index numbers, then get them from ‘the annex’ – one of those temp buildings that dot most older hospital sites – bring them back to the wards, and repeat. Once all the files for appointments were done, there might be some time culling inactive files from the basement.

    35 years on, when I engage with parts of the NHS, I realise how much it still relies on moving bits of paper from one place to another. Our GP uses the electronic prescription service, but local CAHMS isn’t integrated into ‘the spine’, probably down to some system incompatibility. Many appointments are still sent by letter only – by comparison our GP does reminder texts.

    Just remembered a classic from CAHMS – we had an appointment sent without the Dr’s name. The Dr rotates every 6 months. We turn up and they ask ‘who do you have an appointment with?’. So I had to look back for the name on the last email. And then reception ‘forgot’ to tell the Dr we were in the waiting room.

    So there are operational efficiency savings to be had.

    I would see the governments roll to be more like a combination of Ofsted (inspectors with a checklist of operational efficiency) and the Open Banking regulation – mandating interoperability between systems without getting involved in defining the technical standards.

    Sitting m on the banking software side, that market is increasing moving from capex to opex – no one buys servers anymore, and it’s increasingly difficult to sell software licences – the expectation is the lot as a service. The upfront costs (or profit on our side) keep falling. Data migration remains the big stumbling block

  2. But yes, agree that we all loathe ‘all our lines are busy right now, so why don’t you try our website’.

    We all loathe being directed to self-service as no manned tills are opened.

    And on a similar note, we hate getting through to an outsourced customer service department who don’t know what they’re doing or have very little stake in the business they are servicing, so it’s not just the robots.

    It’s the sense of a business or service that is actively trying to avoid you, like a waiter avoiding eye contact

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