While there is some good in making machines more like humans, why do we try to make humans more like machines?

I was at the post office recently to mail a package. When I reached the counter the clerk started to rattle through a list of options, with prices, most of which were not relevant to me. We’ve all experienced this from a machine, as in a list of menu options or a phone system IVR (interactive voice response) that must be listened to before you can actually go do the thing you already know you want to do. But since I was dealing with a human, and not a machine, I tried to skip ahead and go right to what I wanted.

But I couldn’t. The post office, or maybe just this branch, or this one clerk, couldn’t do that. She had to read all my options to me. Even more frustrating, when I explained that I knew exactly how I wanted to mail the package, she told me that since I had interrupted her she now had to start all over.

This was a process gone wrong. The creation of a machine-like human. She eventually got my conformation through exasperation and I waited through (and ignored) the whole list a second time. Then I heard a total price which was much higher than I expected. I dared to repeat what the way I wanted to mail the package and found that by ignoring the list and not declining an option for insurance I had accepted it.

She repriced it. Gave me a receipt. Told me to have a nice day.

And I left (slightly depressed) wondering how this was possible.

You’d think that the post office, of all places, has no where to go but up in their efficiency. You’d think that the post office would want to improve customer service as much as the next organization. You’d think that the post office would take heart from its history, back when it really was an amazing institution — I mean, it wasn’t that long ago when delivering packages accurately and in a timely fashion to addresses hundreds or thousands of miles away was truly magic.

But instead I was told to have a nice day.

Don’t put your people in a position where they have to be machine-like humans. Where you do use processes, give them processes with escape hatches so they can bring the benefits of being human to their work.

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