Thursday, 26 June 2014

Computer says no. Human says yes.

It’s too easy for the answer to be no. That’s why there is real value in finding a way to say yes.

Do you remember that time when Mummy said no, so you then went to Daddy, who then said yes? (And then you got naughty step time from both for successfully finessing the approvals process.) It strikes me that there will always be a need for a service industry to facilitate this behaviour, to override the technology. Let me explain by way of example.

I’m in the process of booking our family holiday in October 2015. (Let’s gloss over the fact that I’m booking 16 months in advance, and why this isn’t necessarily an indication of a burgeoning organising psychosis.) Like with every of my shopping experiences in the last decade, I was fully intending to complete the search, evaluation and purchase steps of the buyer’s journey online. However, it turned out that the family holiday was more complex than the web sites could price up, so I engaged the services of our village travel agent.

That was the first surprise for me: that the travel agent still existed in this digital age. Certain parts of the job have changed: they recycle an order of magnitude more brochures than they give out. These days, they mostly conduct their business by email with travel agents of booking companies – agent to agent.

The service that they offer is that they will organise the holiday for you. They will take the input parameters of your budget, aspirational itinerary, and flexibility work through availabilities and constraints of terms and conditions, present alternative options, to create the best value holiday.

The very best travel agents will give you options that you hadn’t thought of (researched) yourself. And the most savvy travel agents won’t make the whole thing appear too straightforward to you, so that you see the value of their efforts.

It’s taken us three weeks to organise this so far, and we still haven’t completed the booking. Every time we think we’re there, a computer system tells the agent that the combination isn’t possible. But thankfully, every time the computer says no, the agent finds a combination that does work within our expectations. And that’s why humans are sometimes worth persisting with.

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