LAST NIGHT I WAS CALLED BY A ROBOT. It was dinner time at the Morgan household and, as is typical by cunning telemarketers, also the prime time to bother potential customers. These customers are more likely to be home.
But this evening was different. “Hello I’d like to speak with Miss Rio” (That’s my wife’s name). The voice was pleasant enough. An Australian accent, most probably of a woman in her mid to late forties. In my mind she had shoulder length hair, and laughter lines. I instinctively said “Hello”, and was surprised when the voice continued, as if thinking that I was Rio. Surely she knew that ‘Miss’ Rio was a woman. I clearly was not.
“Last month on the thirteenth of September you purchased a set of tea-towels from our charity, but my records show that we have not yet received your payment.”
“Ok,” I replied slowly, indicating (to any human) that I was waiting for her point.
“Can you confirm that you bought tea-towels from our charity on the thirteenth of September?” Her words were certainly read from a script, but also, the tone of voice and tempo had suddenly changed, as if a bad DJ had suddenly changed records.
…the tone of voice and tempo had suddenly changed, as if a bad DJ had suddenly changed records.
“Excuse me,” I said, “But you don’t sound like a real person. You sound like a robot.”
There was a pause.
“Ha, ha, ha”, she giggled over the line. “There must be a bad connection. I am a real person.”
There was another uncomfortable pause. And once again the tone and tempo changed.
“I don’t think you are a real person.”
“I am a real person.” This time I knew for sure that she was a robot. This was exactly the same sentence that she had said a moment ago. It wasn’t as if she was repeating a script, she was literally repeating the same sound bite. I ended the conversation with a polite, “Thank you. Goodbye”, to which she strangely responded in an upbeat voice ‘Goodbye’.
I haven’t heard from Samantha West since. Samantha? Well, assuming that she is not only a robot, but also a master of accents, it appears that TIME Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer was also called by Samantha, only this time she was asking about health insurance, and had an American accent. Like me, Scherer also challenged her membership of humanity and got the same giggling denial, “I am a real person.”
…only a heartless automoton can survive the hang-ups of being constantly hung up upon…
No you’re not, Samantha.
So is this the state of sales today? Are we humans so poor at making people feel at ease that a robot can do a better job? Or have customers had enough of dinner-time telesales that only a heartless automoton can survive the hang-ups of being constantly hung up upon? No one said sales was easy, particularly cold-calling, but it’s impossible to replace the human in sales!
Or is it.
In June this year Eugene Goostmann, a 13 year-old boy fooled 33% of judges that he was just that – a 13 year-old boy. He was, in fact, a real life Pinocchio, minus the physical form. The test, known as the Turing Test, was devised in 1950 by computer science pioneer and second world war codebreaker Alan Turing, who said that if a machine was indistinguishable from a human, then it was “thinking”. No computer had previously achieved the 30% pass mark, convincing that number of human interrogators, until little Eugene Goostmann, a computer program, achieved the previously impossible. But he did it via five-minute keyboard conversations. There was no speech recognition requirement.
Eugene and Samantha might not convince the majority of us today, but this is going to change. It’s already started. Apple’s Siri has already begun to replace the role of parents in one case, and so why wouldn’t it soon replace the role of the salesperson. After all, the sales role is the most under-qualified, yet important function in the company. Why not outsource it to a robot?
Eugene Goostmann, a 13 year-old boy fooled 33% of judges that he was just that – a 13 year-old boy.
And that’s the question you should be asking yourself. What can I do that a robot can’t? For now, the answer is simple: Care. That’s an ability that will not only keep you safely in your job, but will make you a successful salesperson, or leader, in the process. And for now, Eugene and Samantha don’t have that ability.
Again, I’ll repeat, FOR NOW.