Now Reading
The Spanish quest to outlaw automated customer service

360 Magazine 
in Print


The Spanish quest to outlaw automated customer service

What’s Spanish for “Are you kidding me?”

Such will be the reaction, I suspect, among businesses from Madrid to Barcelona and beyond following a proposed law forbidding them to automate their customer service operations.

The bill put forward by Spain’s government doesn’t simply require companies to have real people responding to customers. It also puts a mandatory cap on waiting times of three minutes.

Utilities such as telecoms and ISPs will also have to offer 24/7 support, and all other firms to do so within standard business hours.

Failure to comply with the proposed law, which has yet to be approved by the Spanish parliament, will lead to fines ranging from 50 euros to 100,000 euros ($160-$106,000).

The Washington Post reported on the bill, along with an explanation from Spain’s Minister of Consumption:

“Customer service is a critical part of our relations with consumers which unfortunately and far too often causes endless headaches for Spanish families because far too many companies create bureaucratic labyrinths to stop you from exercising your right to service. These are difficulties which unfortunately waste an enormous amount of energy, time and money.”

Law and disorder
I’m sure customers, including those who have never set foot in Spain, are nodding their head at those comments. I doubt many of them would have gone this far in attempting to improve customer service standards, though.

What this bill overlooks, for starters, is the economic viability of answering every call with a person. Automation, when used well, can be a levelling force that allows a small or medium-sized firm to compete with much larger entities. Forcing them to staff up their contact centers could seriously jeopardize their growth and ability to scale.

The wait times issue represents a second area where the Spanish government is simply out of touch. While companies can use technologies such as interactive voice response (IVR) and customer service dashboards to help agents talk to more customers, they require significant investment and training. Will grants be offered to help comply with this law?

See Also
Accenture endless customer service

It’s also not clear whether the bill’s stipulation about talking to a real person is limited to phone calls. Companies need to be equally responsive across a range of channels, from e-mail to social media, text messages and more. If customer service resources have to be allocated towards the phone lines first and foremost, what will that do to the customers who prefer other ways to reach out?

Perhaps those in the Spanish government (who no doubt had good intentions) drafting this bill don’t realize that many forms of customer service automation do, in fact, have a person behind them. Even many chatbot offerings can link to live agents, rather than an algorithm.

Automated phone menus may be annoying, but they’re there to help ensure you get to the right person or department. Going back to human operators is unlikely to help companies reach and maintain that three-minute threshold.

One other thing: has anyone thought about what will be necessary to actually enforce this legislation? I would imagine people could write in to some kind of government agency, but more likely they would have to call one. Let’s hope that the Spanish public sector is ready to be a role model in lightning-fast, yet automation-free service.

More than anything else, this bill speaks to the frustration that has been bubbling up with half-baked attempts to add more technology to customer service departments. Even if this bill doesn’t become law (and I doubt it will), it could help make a stronger argument within companies to improve their approach to automation – not just in Spain, but all over the world.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll To Top