Meet Ava. She’s a new employee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She smiles, answers questions and can guide you to the nearest restroom or to your connecting flight. Her cost for six months of work? $60,000. She works 24/7, non-unionized and without retirement benefits.
But don’t try to shake her hand. She’ll remain rather stiff. Ava is a quarter-inch thick piece of plexiglass with the image of a speaking woman projected onto it. She’s an avatar and was recently unveiled at three major airports in the U.S. Like an iPhone in high heels, an interactive version will eventually answer travelers’ questions. Aside from working without pay or coffee breaks, the avatar boasted of another advantage over human customer service agents: “I don’t need a background check.” She’ll be able to be customized to promote your business or product.
I’m not sure about this, I still prefer talking to real people, even when they’re grumpy. We seem to do everything to disconnect ourselves from our fellow human, avoiding face-to-face interaction at all costs. I still think face-to-face is the most effective form of communication because our body language combined with words can transport so much more than anything a computer could ever generate, but I guess it’s all part of the world we live in today.
A real person at the airport is customer service not because they relay information to the traveler, but because they can do so much more. They can smile genuinely and tell you that you have enough time to catch that train to the other terminal, or when you’re looking helpless and you’re in need of help, they can offer suggestions to your specific needs. They can even offer to get you help to transport your luggage, all of which I’m sure Ava could never do!
On the plus side think of how fast the line at security will be when everyone is just a perky digital image!
Hmmm maybe I’m a bit more sure about this than I thought?