Phone Power(less)

In the face of all the current threats to civilization and the end of life as we know it, I’m a bit reluctant to focus on my number one ‘peeve’. But I think it’s symptomatic of a deep and growing philosophical and social problem that leaves people feeling powerless. I am referring, of course, to computerized phone systems that answer incoming calls and lead you through a process, allegedly to assist you by answering your questions or finding the right human being for you to speak with.

I bought a new printer from Future Shop last week, and I couldn’t get it to work with my Apple computer. So I called Hewlett Packard’s technical assistance and here’s what happened:

  • Dial and then wait for mechanical voice
  • Give information to phone system
  • Wait 10 minutes
  • Talk to person (the one who will supposedly be prepared to deal with the purpose of my call) and tell story again
  • Find out it’s wrong person, so they transfer me
  • Listen to multiple beeps, ringing, only to arrive back at first menu
  • Give info to system again
  • Wait 10 minutes
  • Talk to person who says (again) that I need to speak to the Canadian technical person
  • Give info to system again
  • Wait 10 minutes
  • Talk to a person who transfers me to the Apple person
  • Repeat the story again and finally get transferred to someone who knows the answer—my new printer won’t work with a Mac.

Unfortunately, this latest story isn’t unique or unusual. I’ve found that breaking into fits of screaming “AGENT, OPERATOR, SOMEONE, ANYONE!!!!” into the phone gets me nowhere fast (after all, I’m either on hold for half an hour, talking to a computer that isn’t programmed to understand my requests, or speaking with the wrong person).

Don’t the corporate folks know how much they’re pissing off customers and killing whatever brand loyalty there might be for otherwise excellent products or services? To help them, I’ll try to enumerate my complaints in a coherent fashion without getting too emotional:

  1. Getting a lot of unsolicited information before the damn system spits out the numerical choices. Airlines are particularly adept at this: annoying potential customers with an ever-expanding list of regulations, security procedures, and general bulletins. Don’t they know my patience decreases in an inverse relationship to the amount of time I lose listening to DIDAF (Data I Didn’t Ask For)?
  2. Ads, musical jingles and corporate theme songs that repeat endlessly while I wait.
  3. Systems that, when they don’t understand what I say, ask me (repeatedly) to repeat what I’ve said or to restate it in a way they can understand. (The relatively humane systems transfer me to a live person after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at re-speaking.)
  4. Extremely big, sophisticated and deep phone systems, where I have to go through four or more levels of button-pushing before getting put on ‘hold’. (The phone company itself excels at this one).
  5. Simplistic phone systems that don’t include what I want to talk about in their ‘menu’ of options…and that don’t offer me any other options for getting an answer.
  6. A correlate of #5: systems that don’t include a way to reach a human ‘operator’ at all.
  7. Having to weave my way through the computerized system by answering myriad questions, waiting with baited breath for the next prompt, only to reach a human being and have to restate the information all over again—aaaaaaaargh!
  8. Reaching a person who is reading from a script in English, and whose command of the language doesn’t support them operating outside the standard questions—only to be put (you guessed it!) on ‘hold’ again, listening to the canned music that goes on and on and on…
  9. Messages that play while I’m on hold saying how much they appreciate my call and apologize for keeping me on hold. I usually use the wait time figuring out how much they’re saving by putting the burden of customer service (never mind satisfaction) onto me. At this rate, it won’t be long before I’m being charged to make my own products or perform whatever service they’re offering me.

Oh well. I guess I can always call the customer service line to complain—NOT!!!

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