• Eugene McGarrell

I am not a service user, I'm a human




The 2016 Ken Loach film "I, Daniel Blake" tells the story of a 59 year old widower with a cardiac condition and assessed as medically unfit to work. Despite his medial condition and his doctors' recommendations that he can't work he find himself having to fight the government bureaucracy to secure a basic income.





The film shows the warmth of people's hearts even in the face of poverty and it also shows the cold-hearted nature of a system that is designed by robots for robots. How many of us have experienced "customer service" systems that do nothing more than frustrate. Just not being able to talk to a real human when calling our bank, insurance company or telecommunications provider is one thing, having the same frustration when you don't know where your next meal is coming from is entirely another.


Machine learning, artificial intelligence and system design have their place of course, but can we really design a customer service system without the people who use the service? Can we really stand out in the crowd from our competitors if we continue do do what everyone else is doing?


The stark message from this film is how the system engineers the people running the system. How the cold hearted nature of decision making can be projected on the people responsible for operating the service. And how quickly the interactions between the operators and the customer can take away the self respect and dignity of people already under significant stress.


Decision algorithms can help to make a process efficient but there must be a human element to that decision making, particularly when that system is meant to be designed to support people in vulnerable circumstances. Single mothers, people with addictions, people with no shelter and people escaping violence at home for example.

Artificial intelligence alone just isn't good enough for service people in complex situations. We need adaptive human intelligence that is smart. Like real people.


Real people designing service systems for real people. It's old skool, but that's human centred.






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