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Dealing with the faceless virtual world

By Jean-Claude Elias - Oct 03,2019 - Last updated at Oct 03,2019

Storing your files in the cloud, working with the Internet and using online services and applications is great. That is when it works well. When it does not, then the experience can prove to be a painful one. When this happens and you try to contact “someone” to solve the problem, you often find yourself having to deal with a faceless party. Nothing can be more frustrating, more harrowing.

Although we all have gotten more or less accustomed to using virtual services, from the soft and warm comfort of our laptop computer, tablet or smartphone, we still feel the visceral need to talk to a very real human being to solve our problems. Seeing the people supposed to help you, or at least being able to speak to them, if only over the phone, still makes a big difference. In ideal cases a video call would take place. We may have entered the age of robotics, but we are not yet 100 per cent robots yet.

There are various degrees of severity to the situation. If the Internet-based service you have an issue with has a local branch you can pay a visit to, in your own town, going there in person to talk to the customer support people would probably help — assuming that they have been well trained, are willing to help, and are up to the job! This is the case for all of us here in Amman, who deal with Orange, Zain, local banks, the tax department, Social Security, utility companies and various administrations.

But how would you do it when your service provider in the cloud is in another country and, what’s more, is a giant organisation that does not necessarily have the time to speak to you? From Amazon, to Netflix, Spotify, Uber, Careem, GoDaddy, BeIn Sport, Dropbox, Hostgator, TeamViewer, Google (for Gmail and online applications), Apple and Microsoft, to name a few of the main really big ones, we all have something to do with them at some point.

How personalised, how efficient, how friendly their customer support is varies greatly from one of these big companies to another.

However big it is, I found talking to Amazon to be fast, easy and convenient. They do try to provide you with an answer to your question through the usual FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and text-based knowledge base, but when none of these works, you can still make a good old fashioned phone call to Amazon, speak to a human being, and yes, they will answer and solve your problem.

On the other hand service at Spotify (music streaming) is harder to get. However, they do have this online text chat, which is somewhere in between a cold, entirely robotic gateway, and a warm, personalised help channel. I used it a couple of times already and I must admit I got the answers that I needed rather quickly. Given the conversational style used in the communication, I had hard time telling whether the party chatting with me was a real person or a software application. Nevertheless, and putting feelings aside, it worked!

Among those who play the really hard to get I found Uber and Dropbox, with a significant difference between these two. The Uber mobile application used to call a driver has been lately working in a jerky manner. This is confirmed by a good number of users in Amman, even by some of the drivers themselves, and over a period extending to several weeks. Yet, there was no way to speak to someone there to report and to discuss the issue.

Dropbox cloud storage service is another story. Although speaking to them is virtually impossible, one has to acknowledge that their system is practically flawless and you almost never need to contact them and ask for help. Why then should anyone complain?

The user expects online services either to be near-perfect or to provide a “reasonably human” communication channel to contact them in case of problems. That is until we all become robots.

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