Web Services Can't Solve Every Problem - The Need For a More Human Touch

Joshua Buxbaum is the co-founder of WebPurify, the web's first and most popular profanity filter service with clients like NASCAR, PBS, and Chevron. WebPurify also provides image moderation and video moderation services.

We have all been there many times, trying to resolve complicated and important issues in an automated world only to be met with a frustrating series of dead ends. This is funny coming from the Director of Sales for a popular Web Service that does just that, solves important brand protection problems for our clients utilizing our profanity filter and image and video moderation services. But, with these new leaps and bounds in technology, we still require the old fashioned human touch.

We are not just in the Web Services business; we are in the customer service business. From self-checkout at the supermarket, e-tickets, online banking, automated parking facilities to a text message with my monthly cell phone bill, life has gotten so much easier.

When I check out of my hotel in a few days, I will do it online. There will be no "thank you for staying with us sir”. Let me be clear; I am not looking for a hug goodbye or to wait in a long line to check out, but an increasing lack of these human customer service encounters lowers our expectations of the people we do business with. I wouldn't give up any of these incredible advancements, but they are definitely dulling our expectations of human service.

Customer Service Trumps Fancy Endpoints

We have a saying at our office that F.A.Q.’s don’t replace P.E.O.P.L.E.

Of course, we offer plenty of resources on our site including extensive Documentation for the implementation of our profanity filter, image moderation, and video moderation web services. Armed with that detailed info, the majority of our users don't need to contact us at all.

Occasionally though, an issue requires special attention and can’t be summed up “in a few words.”

A client recently contacted us in a panic. They had just launched a site for a major brand thinking they could handle the moderation of user submitted images internally. After receiving over 5,000 images on day one, they quickly realized that they had underestimated the resources and systems needed to properly moderate this volume. After receiving their 911 call we quickly mobilized, developing a comprehensive criteria list for moderating their images and were up and running with a trained and dedicated team for their project within 24 hours. It wasn’t our API that saved the day and created clients for life, it was the rapid customer service response.

We are certainly in the business of making processes faster, easier, and more efficient with technology. The Web Purify API is intended to make the developers' lives simpler, a quick plug-and-play solution so their brand is not vulnerable to offensive user-generated content. That said we have quickly learned that no matter how advanced our web service gets, we will always need to match it with the same level of customer service.

It is amazing what kind of reaction a quick phone call or email response to a client’s inquiry will illicit. These are real emails:

“WOW..thanks for that quick reply”

“PERFECT, really appreciate that SWIFT response.”

"Seriously? I just emailed you 5 minutes ago, nobody responds that quickly"

I don’t share these exchanges to pat our team on the back, rather to illustrate that the bar for consumer expectations has been set so low, that a simple return email in a timely manner astounds a potential client.

Ironically, some of the profanity we filter from user generated text and videos come from frustrated consumers venting about their own customer service experiences.

Machines Don’t Always Get it Right

Interestingly enough, the issue of human vs. machine power comes up often in the space we work in. While our profanity filter is completely automated, clients are often surprised that all of our image moderation and video review is handled by our own trained human team. We feel it would be irresponsible to trust software or crowd sourcing to catch the subtleties.


Because subtleties and context can't be addressed with a broad mechanical brush. Just as an automated phone system can’t always address my complicated needs, software will never truly be able to identify:

  • a hateful image of a person in a Nazi uniform
  • a potential minor consuming alcohol
  • another competing company’s brand

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking APIs can solve every client problem. They can’t. Human customer service encounters work because we are complicated social creatures, and sometimes a friendly knowledgeable voice on the other end of the phone is all we need to press the “buy it now” button.

Ok, time to board my flight. I hand my e ticket to the flight attendant who says, “Have a safe and wonderful flight sir." I smile. I guess there’s still hope for us!

Be sure to read the next Best Practices article: API Design is Stuck in 2008