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 ‘People who need people’ once were ‘the luckiest people in the world’

In the 1964 Broadway musical Funny Girl, star Barbra Streisand introduced the song “People.” In part, the lyrics went, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

From live phone customer service support to grocery checkout, increasingly the default is to push everything to technology: email, chatbots, text, grocery scanners. When it doesn’t work out or people want another voice to connect with, they’re often out of luck.

This lack of person-ality isn’t because customers want it. Sure, some do. For them, varied digital communications options can be great. But for the rest of us, it just plain sucks. Many people want (and need) people. Lacking this option, frustration grows and customer loyalty goes…right out the window.

Financial Times associate editor and business columnist Pilita Clark addresses the dearth of live phone support head on in an article entitled, “The strange death of the company phone number…As anger rises over clueless customer service, there has never been a better time to offer a human, instead of an online form.” She points out that a company announcing that it was foregoing phone customer service for digital quickly lost her business to a competitor with an easily found phone contact phone number and efficient, competent help.

Clark notes, “A growing number of organisations have quietly dispensed with website phone numbers, or made them so hard to find that they may as well not exist…it has reached the point that today the sight of a prominent company phone number is becoming notable and having a call answered quickly by a person feels like winning some sort of jackpot.”

The article adds, “The question is, why don’t more companies seize on the deepening fury about clueless customer service and make a competitive virtue of offering better support? …The UK telecoms group BT [set up a] call centre onshoring effort…Customer gripes have plunged so much that BT, which once had some of the worst levels of complaints in the sector, now outperforms industry averages.”

Clark cites a comment from a BT spokesperson: “Calling remains the first preference for customers for any complex or sensitive problem and ‘this does not really differ by demographic.’” So, it’s not just about older people preferring voice over technology.

A Chris Matyszczyk article on frames the grocery customer service dilemma with the headline/subhead, “More than 20 people stood in line at the supermarket. No one wanted self-checkout…Technology is supposed to solve so many things. Somehow, self-checkout isn’t always working.”

He writes: “I used to think it was just me. Every time I’d fly through London’s Heathrow Airport, I’d stock up on fine British chocolate and scurrilous political magazines at an airport store. Then the hell would begin. I’d have to go through self-checkout as there was only one human checkout…I’d struggled for a long time with self-checkout in supermarkets, too.”

Matyszczyk points out that “didn’t feel easier at all. In fact, it felt like work…I felt confident, however, that I was in the minority. Surely more of the app-dependent world community was now entirely happy not to talk to anyone, scan their stuff and then go…But then I saw a video taken in the British supermarket Tesco. Only one human line was open, as a glitch had knocked out all the other human-manned checkouts…The self-checkouts, however, were reportedly still all working. And no one was using them…Supermarkets might sniff that it’s hard to hire employees, self-checkout is quicker and please, dear customer, get with the times. The pandemic also drove more people to self-checkout in order to avoid human interaction…But, for me at least, going to the supermarket is a local, personal experience…the first self-checkout was installed in 1986. Don’t you get the feeling it hasn’t been universally embraced?”

People need people more than ever in our over-technologized world. Technology can be a great option or backup, but’s it’s not everything. It’s time for the “all things technology” companies and advocates to get a clue to improve customer service. With that will come enhanced revenues, which they’re currently sacrificing and handing over to competitors who get it.


Mark Lusky Communications helps companies that honor customers, workers, communities, the environment, and stakeholder governance tell their story to the world. Interested? Let’s talk.

One reply on “ ‘People who need people’ once were ‘the luckiest people in the world’

Can’t agree more!
Auto customer service, either voice or digital, that provide nothing if your question doesn’t happen to fall into the assumptions they make, say to me, we don’t care what your issue is if it’s not on list that we are willing or able to address. I say, Buh bye.

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