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  • Writer's pictureJim K

Talk to me if you want to live

Last week, when I dialed up roadside assistance at the Automobile Club of America (AAA) and found myself talking to an automated attendant, I was reminded that artificial intelligence (AI) has been in the news again.

Maybe you’ve heard this theory: as computer systems become more and more advanced, the machines will eventually take over, and push us humans to the sidelines. With the uptick of virtual assistants like Alexa, where you can order merchandise on Amazon, robots that can pick and package items at the Amazon warehouse, drones and driverless cars that deliver packages to your home, the general public seems to be either excited or terrified.

Like the movie ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” computers of the futuristic company Skynet, became aware, took over the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal and initiated a nuclear holocaust that wiped out all human civilization.

So, walking back out to my car last week, I was met by a terminator from the future. Actually, what I found was a flat tire on my car. Could I have replaced it with the temporary donut wheel and driven to my local Les Schwab Tires? I suppose. With my AAA membership, which I’ve had for 40 years, and the consistently great service they provide, I dialed up roadside assistance immediately. From the start, I was prompted with questions from an automated attendant.

‘Thank you for calling AAA. Are you calling from California?’


‘Thank you. My name is Esther, I will be helping you with your service call today. Are you on the freeway?”


‘Are you in a safe place away from traffic?’


‘Okay. What color is your car?’


‘Is this the Fiat 500 that is listed on your membership?


‘Please say, or type in your AAA membership number on your mobile device.’

I did that. And our conversation continued, with ‘Esther’ and her friendly voice walking me through all the information she needed to assist me.

‘In order to find out your exact location, may I send you a text message?’


‘I’ll hold on the line for you until I hear back from you.’

The text message arrived, I sent one back confirming my location, and sure enough.

‘Thank you. We show you are at 779 E. Yosemite Blvd., is that correct?’

Yes. Esther went on to tell me that a tow truck driver had been dispatched and would be in touch with me on my mobile device.

‘Is there anything else I can do to help you right now?’


‘Thank you for using AAA. Goodbye.’ Not once was I speaking with a live person. And here’s the interesting part. It worked for me! Esther came across as friendly, warm, caring, efficient. Heck, she was even concerned for my safety.

About 10 minutes later, the actual driver called me. He introduced himself and politely provided an estimated arrival time of 45 minutes. I thanked him, and shortly after hanging up, a text message hit my phone with details of what we had just discussed. Good work.

As the wait got longer than 45 minutes, the driver called me, told me he had to go to an emergency call, and would need to get someone else to help me. This bit of ‘service recovery’ went very well. He apologized profusely, thanked me for being patient, and promised to dispatch a new driver immediately who would call me right away. The new driver, Tony, called me and arrived in short order. My car was hitched up and we headed over the to my local Les Schwab Tires, where they do a great job in providing the same friendly, efficient service that they portray in their TV commercials. They patched up the tire and I was on my way in about 30 minutes.

So, it was a good day for customer service. Tony did a great job, as did the entire team at Les Schwab. My experience with Esther at AAA was positive too. I don’t get the sense that she’ll be transferring to Skynet anytime soon. On the other hand, she was so smooth, is it possible that she’s considering a side hustle providing telephone etiquette training classes and competing with me?

Not a chance. With her soothing and comforting voice, and that special, personalized way she took care of me during our phone call, Esther wouldn’t do that.

Would she?

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