Here’s something interesting from the FAQ for Aeroplan:

Why is Aeroplan increasing their Contact Centre service fee?


Why is Aeroplan increasing their Contact Centre service fee?


In support of our efforts to enhance your Aeroplan experience, effective October 01, 2005, we will increase the Contact Centre service fee to $30.00 plus applicable taxes per passenger for Airline rewards.

The service fee will be used to improve your Aeroplan Contact Centre experience. You can look forward to Aeroplan product enhancements and new technology such as speech enabled customer service support.

Now the interesting thing about this, to me, is that they consider this speech enabled customer service support to be an added benefit. Have you ever tried been subjected to speech recognition when you call for customer service? I first experienced it with UPS. I would call, and it would ask me to read in the tracking number, which is about 26 digits and letters long. After that, it would transfer me to a real human, and I’d have to read the tracking number again, because they obviously don’t trust the speech recognition to have gotten it right. Why would they use it if they don’t trust it? It just makes the system slower and more annoying to use.

More recently, Bell has started using “Emily” the robot to answer your customer service questions. Emily will ask you what you want, and after an uncomfortably long-ish pause, “she” reads back what you just said and asks you if that’s what you meant to say. It’s a bizarre and frustrating experience, and although it might be faster than the “old fashioned” touch tone system, it sure seems slower.

Since then, I’ve noticed a number of other companies using this speech recognition stuff to replace real people. I’ve never felt better served by an automated system than I have by real people. Recently, I’ve had to deal with American Express and Visa because of my lost wallet. In both cases, I found the customer service from the real human beings there to be very good. American Express, in particular, was quite helpful, due in part, I’m sure, to the fairly hefty fees I pay them every year for my membership. The human customer service rep was able to quickly correct a few problems created by their useless Internet self-help system.

Don’t get me started on Internet self-help systems. Some of them are good. I like most Internet banking sites that I’ve used. ING Direct’s is awesomely simple and straightforward. They’re a pretty cool company overall, I think. CIBC’s and Royal Bank’s Internet banking systems are both well-designed too.

There are a couple of pretty worthless ones though. Cogeco’s is a mess. There are a couple of different logins to remember depending on what you want to do. There’s no need for that. One login per company should be enough. Fortunately I don’t have to use it too often.

The worst by far is anything made by Bell Canada. I won’t talk about their Business Internet management website, because unless you’re paying Bell double the money for a business account that is not as good as your home Internet, you won’t have to deal with the ugly Java application they’ve written to torture you when you’re trying to manage your account. If you’re a home user, you have to deal with Bell’s “One Bill” system that promises to consolidate all of your bills into one, so you can pay it all at once–that is, unless you have Bell Mobility service, which can’t be combined with anything else. Account management is scattered all over the place, and half the time it doesn’t work. I’ve tried three times in the last two months to pay my One Bill online with a credit card, and it says it has accepted my credit card, but it never takes the payment. What the hell? They don’t want my money? I’m going to have to call Emily and beg her to let me talk to a real person so I can pay my One Bill.

Anyway, this rant was supposed to be about Aeroplan, and it got a bit sidetracked. What I really wanted to say is that Aeroplan is not fooling me with their bullshit FAQ. They are not using speech recognition to “improve your Aeroplan Contact Centre experience.” They’re doing it to finance the replacement of actual helpful human beings. To charge $30 to fund our own frustration just adds insult to injury.