The People on the Front Line of a Service Economy?

About half of Americans take airplanes and trains with some regularity, see doctors or visit hospitals several times a year, and deal with hotels or rental car companies whenever we travel. One major problem is untangling the seemingly constant difficulty of dealing with the “front line” of people who are the human interface for all the services we depend on. For example, almost everyone who is reading this has encountered a problem in booking a hotel room, changing an airline reservation, or getting an appointment with a doctor.

For example, someone I know recently went into a Marriott hotel in New York City and asked to book a small suite for a two-week period. My friend was asked if they had a reservation. The answer was no, but my friend wanted to make one. The response was too bad; apparently, you can only  reserve/book online. The potential guest asked if the clerk could help with that, but the answer was simply “No”. When my friend asked to speak to the manager, the clerk initially refused, arguing that the manager would say the same thing.

Of course, when the manager finally appeared, the problem was solved  immediately. “Of course I can help you,” he said, and immediately got to work. When asked about the clerk’s obstinate refusal to help? “They are hard to train and manage; believe me, I struggle with this daily.”

(1) Why did this problem arise? (2) How did we get to this point? (3) What is the future of these service industry jobs, if current trends hold? (4) What can be done to solve the problem and improve these interactions for all?

(1) The problem seems to arise from many causes.

–Service workers are often poorly trained in the human relations aspect of service businesses;

–Workers are hamstrung with corporate rules and regulations that severely restrict their initiative or independence;

–Workers are entirely dependent on the rigid computers they use, which dictate what they are allowed to do.

(2) How did this type of thing come about?

–We have had things generally so good overall for a long time that people have gotten spoiled;

–The educational system does a poor job of preparing young people for jobs in a competitive service economy;

–The jobs are dumbed down so much that workers simply stop thinking and do not take any initiative or risk;

— There is zero incentive to make any effort to earn incremental revenue for the business;

–The clerks often think they are doing customers a favor to speak to them at all.

(3) Where is this problem headed?

–The geniuses who design the computer systems that these “front line” people use will try harder and harder to work around human deficiencies. In the process they are likely to dig the service hole deeper and wider.

–The basic problem is not within their computer systems but with the humans who are given less and less responsibility and flexibility. And, until that is addressed, the problem is likely to compound.

(4) What can be done?

–Better describe and measure the overall problem and quantify the costs that the problem imposes on individual enterprises and the economy as a whole.

–Integrate service better with the educational system to improve youngsters’ understanding of the economy at large, which needs more service employees than industrial ones.

–Help the “front line” people understand that their real job is to help increase revenues, to decrease frustration, and to ultimately overall improve service and profits.

Trying to eliminate the human involvement simply with computer solutions is likely to make the overall problem worse because many people (even young ones) have a hard time with computers.

This whole type of widespread problem surely has a real effect on the overall mood of the country as well as the political views of a large portion of our population—FRUSTRATION.

This may also be another outgrowth of the widening overall social media disease syndrome.


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