When customer service had a human touch

Most YourLifeChoices readers will remember the year 1980 and its music. In Australia, the biggest songs of the 1980s covered many genres. Split Enz, the Village People, Lipps Inc. and Pink Floyd provided great diversity. One of my favourite songs of that year wasn’t even a single. It was Elvis Costello’s Human Touch.

As AI takes over our chats and machines handle our grocery purchases, it seems we are losing even more of the human touch.

In theory, these technologies are supposed to provide us with more time together. The dream we were promised was one of humans doing less work and having more leisure time. Machines and robots would be able to handle all that menial stuff.

Yet here we are more than 40 years later, many of us faced with having to defer retirement. Some of us are working more hours than ever. And when we go shopping, we’re encouraged to use self-checkouts, rather than engage with a fellow human.

And I haven’t even mentioned phone calls yet. I’m not talking about phone calls to friends – although even that concept is fast disappearing – I mean calls to businesses. I know I am not alone in needing to take a deep breath before ringing any of my ‘service’ providers.

‘Your call is important to us

Sure it is. There’s a reason the word ‘service’ appears in quotes in the previous paragraph. It’s true that those who provide us with our internet and phone connections are delivering a service, in one sense.

But the word has connotations that go beyond the one implied in the message. The word ‘service’ derives from ‘serve’. As in, ‘How can I serve you?’

Well one way you can serve us is by adopting a human touch. One that involves a chat as we hand over our groceries for scanning. Or eye contact, at least. Maybe even a smile.

Smiles and eye contact aren’t possible over a phone, of course. But a human being’s voice is. And by that, I mean a live human voice, not a recorded one. Not an AI one that tries to understand your requests using its so-called intelligence.

And look, in many cases it is actually possible to speak live with a real human over the phone. If you are prepared to wait, that is. And by that, I mean wait, and wait … and wait.

As Sunday Mail columnist Peter Goers pointed out recently, long wait times on the phone make a mockery of what we often hear when on hold: ‘Your call is important to us.’

So important that you will keep us on hold for 20 minutes, or half an hour. Maybe even an hour or more. Or, in the case of what Mr Goers claims is a world record, 15 hours, 40 minutes and 1 second!

Human touch vs profits

That ludicrous record belongs to a caller to Qantas, apparently. And yet, the latest Qantas ad, introduced in May this year, suggests the company provides great service.

The ad depicts a son flying home via Qantas to surprise his mum for her 60th birthday. It is a genuinely moving ad, with the focus very much on human touch.

This flies in the face of that world record holder’s experience and, indeed, of many others.

Through all this Qantas’s profits have soared. The big two supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, have also recorded rising profits despite the cost-of-living crisis.

This would not be a bad thing if the profits were flowing through to those who used to take Qantas phone calls and service the supermarket registers. If it were, they would now be basking in a life of shorter working hours and more time with friends.

That does not seem to be happening. Somehow, shareholder returns and CEO salaries are apparently more important than a bit of human touch.

What service experiences have you had lately? Are you finding it harder to get service from an actual human? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: Customer service ratings take a nosedive, survey finds

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. The only time you get real service today is when you are buying something. After you hand over payment that service vanishes.
    It’s not like that everywhere but I think it will become universal.
    Then there is the powerful AI that is now available. I still have two kids in high school and the grade 12 boy said they all get AI to write their assignments for them then fiddle with them a bit to make it look like they wrote them before submitting them.
    I really fear for the future and I am talking short term not some distant time.

  2. The most useless service is “Service Australia” . How it has the audacity to call itself by that name is beyond me. The people that are in the service centres are mostly very helpful but I defy any of the so called managers or MP’s of the c”Service” to get an appointment on line or in a service centre. Or on the phone under an hour.

  3. One of my pet hates is the sales/ service experience when you spend a few thousand dollars renewing for example an insurance policy or pay a big bill all using AI. A day or so later they send you an email asking you to reveal your vital statistics in telling then how thrilled on a scale of 1-10 you were with the “service” you experienced and how likely you would recommend this dehumanizing experience to a friend?
    It happened today. A package was delivered by Aus Post into my PO Box yesterday and I was notified by AI. Today I received an email from A.P. asking how was my delivery experience? I mean what can I say, I picked up a package from my PO Box, I was just thrilled!

  4. With the supermarkets, both Coles and Woolworths are eager to shift us through the self serve checkout. Avoid these at all times, even if it means standing in line for a few extra minutes. If we aren’t seen to be queuing, they can justify reducing the number of “personed” checkouts.
    And always remember to be polite and sociable to the staff serving you, make them feel valued and adding to our days. Quite a few of the operators would much rather be somewhere else if the customers are rude or curt, or even ignore them. The more valued they feel, the more likely they are to resist management moves to close the checkouts.
    There is one facet of “service” that I do not appreciate and that is the cold calls from business that are seeking to guide us into a new lower cost service provider, be it electricity, gas, telephone, insurance or services that I didn’t know I needed. Many of these are not based in Australia and I have no hesitation in asking them when did I request a call from them. The calls often do not continue from there.

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