Let’s meet ‘Miłek’ [from polish miło – nice], a cute little device based on IA algorithms created by a polish start-up Quantum CX. It is here to encourage a friendly customer-staff member relationship. How is ‘Miłek’ doing that? By analysing the face of both the customer and the employee during their conversation in search of a smile. A simple smile is the first step in a direction of not only a better customer experience but also a better well-being of an employee. For every customer’s smile detected by the device 1gr (approx. 0,002€) will be donated to a charity of the employee’s choice! What a charitable and nice initiative, right? Not exactly.
Quantum CX collaborated with PKO BP, a big polish bank, during a campaign that was supposed to, as they state on their Twitter account, better the quality of their service, give employees extra motivation and create a more friendly atmosphere. On top of that, it was supposed to help those in need, of course. The man who stands behind this idea, the CEO of Quantum CX in promotional videos of the campaign states that ‘Miłek’ is supposed to encourage kindness. However, during one of his interviews, he openly says how this device is a new way to control employees and monitor their behavior. This doesn’t sound as good as ‘creating a friendly atmosphere’ now, does it? As an example, he brings up a story of unspecified fast-food chain restaurants from the USA which supposedly used the Quantum CX technology. The reason for introducing this technology was simple: the owner didn’t want to waste time constantly moving around the country to check the atmosphere in every single restaurant so he decided to use technology that is going to do that for him. It did bring him profits but maybe we should focus on those who encounter this technology and whose performance is being monitored by it, not on those who only profit off of it.
You should smile more!
The story of ‘Miłek’ was popularised in Poland by a commentary YouTube channel which pointed out how this seemingly harmless, toy-ish-looking device is actually just another way for big corporations to control their employees. The story blew up and people were not happy about it, to say the least. This reaction must have hurt Quantum CX so much that they disabled comments on their YouTube promotional video so now it is impossible to see people’s reaction to their technology. Those who work or used to work in any kind of customer service know better than anyone how hard being nice to the customers can be sometimes. Especially in fast-food restaurants where employees often get treated terribly by their customers. There is no need of bringing up an example, all of us had seen it at some point in our lives. Now ‘Miłek’ is going to make sure that you smile at your customer no matter what! Of course, the device is not forcing you to smile, you can still choose your facial expressions if you want to. However, your employer is definitely going to look into your stats and consider the usefulness of an ‘unfriendly’ employee.
I think it is also necessary to consider the eventual mental health consequences of this idea. We are getting more and more aware of the dangers of something called ‘toxic positivity’. To explain it simply we could say that it’s based on ignoring and masking negative emotions under a ‘positive mindset’. This is exactly what ‘Miłek’ is teaching the employees to do. If you smile you and your environment will immediately feel better. Except it doesn’t work like that. Researches showed that forced smiling can make you feel better or worse depending on the motivation standing behind it. A forced smile of a fast-food employee who is being watched and judged by an algorithm is probably going to worsen their mood. It definitely worsens mine just thinking about it.
All in all, I believe that ‘Miłek’ behind a cute name and an appealing surface hides corporations’ greed and their need to control. It is unethical and insensitive towards the employees. Artificial Intelligence- something that could potentially make a lot of jobs easier was weaponized by big corporations to squeeze out even more from their employees. Thankfully, Quantum CX had to slow down because of the pandemic but it does not mean that soon it won’t be back on track and when it will it is practically a matter of time before this technology starts to be misused. It is a recipe for a disaster. I am going to end up this rant with an ironic motto of the Quantum CX start-up: ‘For those, who believe the world needs more kindness’.
I also share your sentiment about the potential negative outcomes from “Miłek”. As a HORECA employee, I’ve worked both with customers and in a more closed space. Not being able to show annoyance and having to be constantly smiling even though people might be quite hostile towards you is extremely frustrating. On top of that being judged by your employer by sales or tips earned, etc. just adds to the stress. Long story short, if I could speak on behalf of all my HORECA colleagues, we don’t want and definitely don’t need Miłek. There’s a fine line between supervision and control.
As a Horeca employee, i hate having to be friendly and smiling all the time just because i feel it is a lie. With this technology the world will look more like the Nosedive episode from Black mirror. However hopefully Milek will not come to the Netherlands or the world anytime soon.