The internet is an amazing advancement in our do-it-yourself world. We all love being able to go to Amazon or Google or a government website and get it done ourselves, without human intervention. When we go into a store, we don’t like that salesperson who asks, “Can I help you?” We don’t want anyone to slow us down.
But then we hit a snag – we can’t find what we want…we don’t see what we’re looking for…we have a problem that isn’t addressed. What do we want to do? We want to talk to someone…we want a human being. Now.
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time because it fits so well with my passion for great customer service. Oh, yes – we want those websites that understand what we want – our top tasks – and help us get it done quickly. We want government to develop those efficient apps so we can buy, sell, ask, find, apply, and query when and where we want. But please – don’t forget that, when we’re in trouble, we want a human being.
One of my friends sent me one of those mass email messages this week with this prophetic quote from Albert Einstein: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Once again, that wise owl had it right. We can love new technology and the opportunities it gives us; but we always, always must retain our humanity.
That brings me to the recent Report Card issued by the Center for Plain Language. At the very root of plain writing is communicating like a human being. You have to know how your audience thinks and talks, and you have to write to them so they understand what you’re saying, the first time they read it. It’s all about being human. The Center not only looked at whether federal agencies met the requirements of the Plain Writing Act of 2010…but – more important – they looked at whether agencies are implementing the spirit of the law. In other words – are government agencies really trying to communicate like human beings? They looked at how agencies are measuring their re-written documents and websites. They looked at the actual documents and web pages and assessed whether or not they achieved their goals (and some didn’t!). They applied that human touch – are we writing to communicate clearly with those people who read our documents and websites?
As we strive for open government, transparency, addressing the needs of a mobile society who uses social media, please – let’s not forget that we are human beings. Government is – at its essence – human beings serving human beings. So let’s retain that personal touch, even as we expand the opportunities for do-it-yourself apps and social outreach.
Let’s make sure we have online help that lets people talk to people – in real time – to resolve problems. Let’s make sure that that our customers can get to a person when they dial those phone numbers and work their way through those decision trees. And let’s make sure that this customer representative can answer our questions or send us on the right path – not just say, “Sorry, I can’t help you” or “We don’t do that.” Let’s remember that people still walk into field offices and expect to talk to someone who can help them solve their problems (I visited a field office recently and saw that happen first hand).
Let’s maximize the use of online chats and make sure emails get a human response within 48 hours. Let’s use Skype or similar technology to have face-to-face talks with customers who need us. Let’s not use technology to distance ourselves from the people we serve, but – instead – use it to enable our customers to get that personal contact they
Yes – people want to get it done fast and wherever they are. But don’t forget that we also expect our government to be human…and to be ready to talk to us, one-on-one, when we need you. In our quest to use technology, let’s not forget human beings.