Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Cracking the whip

While scanning the 'sits. vacant' columns recently, I came across a reference to staff being involved in 'driving customers online'.

Something about the implied coercion rankled and I later tried to find the advert again to investigate further. I didn't succeed but, to my surprise, a quick google of the phrase produced a veritable cornucopia of books, webinars and courses devoted to the subject using exactly that term, along with a collection of self-congratulatory reports (among which was the rather worryingly curtailed boast that:
'We've been a key part of the Sainsbury's Groceries online team for a long time, driving customers online through many traditional channels, including execution...' [sic]) 
Restaurants, retailers, power companies and banks all appear to be utterly unabashed, not to say enthusiastic, at the idea of compelling customers to contact them via the internet. It's not a new phenomenon (see 'The Bank that likes to say "F**k off"') but, judging by the amount of training material out there, it has become a lucrative and widespread business in both private and public sectors.

Perhaps it's just me, but I find this suggestion of 'driving' people into changing their behaviour more than a little repellent and no more so than when it concerns basic services; while customers can choose not to patronise a shop or restaurant which is trying to force them online, the same tactics used by the NHS or local councils are little short of bullying.

In between, there are the banks and utilities, where customers have a nominal choice but cannot easily dispense with the service altogether. It's bad enough for those of us who are computer-literate and can make the change, albeit under protest; customers who cannot comply often end up paying more and finding it hard to access their own accounts.

I'm quite happy to deal over the internet with companies where that was my first port of call but, where I initially chose to contact the organisation in person or over the phone, I expect that to continue where possible and, more importantly, particularly over financial or health matters, I neither expect nor want to be pressurised into putting my personal details online.

I've long thought that the banks and utilities, along with some public services who really ought to know better, are effectively treating us as somewhat recalcitrant livestock, applying the Patrician's principle of extracting money from the populace:
"Taxation, gentlemen, is very much like dairy farming. The task is to extract the maximum amount of milk with the minimum of moo." ('Jingo': Terry Pratchett)
To talk of 'driving' customers anywhere suggests that they see us that way too.


To lighten the mood a little, the same trawl through the listings turned up this little gem of unfortunate phrasing:
'Richmond Vale Academy offers an A-certificate in “Fighting with the Poor” in St-Vincent and the Grenadines.'


  1. A spooky aspect of this is the way we end up doing what machines tell us to do or guide us into doing. We become a cog in a bigger machine.

    1. Very true!

      I'm inclined to think that some of the telephone systems giving customers the runaround are an integral part of 'driving' us online with even less chance of personal interaction.

      I do wonder whether we will see a backlash one day and a refusal to cooperate any more - though the opportunity for this to happen is fast running out.

  2. HMRC is particularly egregious in this matter.

    Tax is not simple, and closing all front line enquiry centres to concentrate on online assessment is very short-sighted.

    1. That sounds like the voice of painful experience!