The difficulties I encountered with my call resulted from the automated answering system used by Acme Insurance, and I might add, by every other company in the world that no longer has an interest in directly communicating with customers. Most estimates put the number of companies that fall into that category to be somewhere between every single company in the world and all of the companies in the world. You know the systems I’m talking about—you are given a zillion options, none of which apply to your reason for making the call.
After being put through an irritating process that consisted of my having to push every button on my phone—an exercise that included having to guess which one was the “pound” key—I was eventually told that I would be able to speak to the next available representative. The estimated time for that to happen was two hours. If I didn’t want to wait—and I most certainly didn’t—I could hang up and my call would be returned in the order in which it was received. I chose to hang up without having a clue as to the order in which my call had been received, but previous experience had shown me that the wait would be long enough for me to learn the rules of cricket, and when I finished, still have time left to figure out why I wanted to do that.
As I waited for the return call, I instead decided to plan how I could get revenge against Acme for using a system that was far from customer friendly. I was frustrated with Acme and all of the companies that had moved to replace person-to-person communication with machine-to-person communication. It seems that company executives trying to justify their huge yearly bonuses decided using machines in customer service would foster efficiency and better customer relations, while at the same time saving the company a few bucks. Scratch the efficiency and better customer relations parts, but as for “saving a few bucks”—probably. After all, machines don’t need health insurance or paternity leave. They also are not offended by profanity.
I feel that the now widely accepted model for business customer service—and I don’t want to be too harsh here—is annoying, stupid, intolerable, heartless, self-serving, impractical, and, in case you missed it, annoying. And to make sure you get it I’ll say it one more time. Automated answering systems are annoying.
There have been times when some company made my life so miserable because I couldn’t talk to a human being, I chose to take my business elsewhere. More often than not, that “elsewhere” was Big Louie, a business run from a kiosk located in an abandoned strip mall. Big Louie provides high-interest loans, low-coverage insurance, expensive mortgages, shoddy plumbing, really cheap watches, and any number of things I didn’t realize I needed but it turns out I did. While Big Louie’s prices are high and his product quality is low, you at least get to talk to him face-to-face. He never puts anyone on hold; although, a couple of times he did ask me to wait for a second while he went outside to see if there were any policemen around.
My appreciation for person-to-person communication and my dissatisfaction with automated answering systems brings me back to my plan for getting revenge against Acme Insurance. When my original call was finally returned, Acme was going to get a taste of its own medicine. Someone was going to encounter my automated answering system—me. After dealing with many different APS systems (automated phone systems), I’ve become pretty good at mimicking them. The key to the process is to remain emotionless and uncaring. Considering how I was feeling at the time, I knew that would be easy. Here’s how my plan would play out.
When the phone rang, I would answer using my APS voice:
“You have reached the Loring residence. This call would be monitored for quality assurance if Roger cared about quality. He doesn’t. If you would like to hear this message in English, press 1. To hear this message in Spanish, press 2. To hear this message in Chinese, Russian, or Pig Latin—what are you thinking? To hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s rap version of this message, press 3.”
(Number 1 was pressed.)
“Thank you for calling the Loring residence. Your call might be important. Roger is not available right now. He might be on a line with another caller, which is highly unlikely considering there is only one phone line in the house, or he might be eating popcorn and watching ESPN. Actually, he is eating popcorn and watching ESPN which means he’s unavailable to talk right now and will remain so until the game is over. In the meantime, please listen carefull y as the menu has recently changed, which you wouldn’t notice unless you were familiar with the old menu. There is even a chance it will change in the middle of this call. If you are calling to check on Roger’s well-being, press 1. If you are calling for a recipe for kumquat soup, hang up and go sit in a corner and rethink your eating habits. If you are calling to get tomorrow’s weather report, call back tomorrow. If you are returning a call, press 2.”
(Number 2 was pressed, but instead of the automated answering system that I had been faking, my fake voice recognition system entered into the mix. Yes, I also can do a great voice recognition system. And my fake VRS is just like an authentic system in that it also doesn’t work.)
“You pressed number 2. Your security is sort of important to me, so please identify yourself with your name and date of birth, or the middle name of your maternal great grandmother’s best friend. Let’s start with your name. What is your name?”
(Acme Insurance had a Russell Thomas returning my original call.)
My name is Russell Thomas.
“You said Tussell Lomas. Is that correct?”
No, my name is Russell Thomas.
“You said Ruttle Somas. Is that correct?”
No, I said Russell Thomas.
“Why are you shouting, Mr. Tulas? You did say Mussell Tulas, correct?”
MY NAME IS RUSSELL THOMAS!
“I still don’t understand. Perhaps we need to use your birthday as a way to identify you. After all, your security still has a chance of being important to us. When was your birthday?”
April 9th, 1976.
“You said April 19th, 1967. Is that correct?”
No, I said April 9th, 1976.
“I’m sorry, I still didn’t get that. Perhaps you would like to enter this information manually. Please use the following format, month, three digits, day, one digit, year, five digits.”
What? How do I use three digits for the month, one digit for the day, and five digits for the year? That doesn’t make any sense. (He was beginning to get it!)
“When you finish with your birth date, press the pound key. The pound key can do anything.”
(Poor old Russell tried, but it didn’t matter.)
“I’m sorry, that was an invalid entry. You pressed 13, 45, 1820. There is no thirteenth month, forty-fifth day, and according to the year you selected, you couldn’t possibly have been born then. Maybe you should check your birth certificate. Let’s try the middle name of your maternal great-grandmother’s best friend. What is that name?”
I don’t know that name. I never did.
“You said Teverdid. Is that correct?”
I did not say that.
“You said Sajak. Is that correct?”
I did not say ‘Sajak.’ I don’t know her name!
“You are shouting again. I heard you say Wheargame. Is that correct?”
No! No! No! I want to speak to a human being!
“To speak directly with an agent, press 1 to return to the main menu.”
(Poor Russell fell for that directive.)
“You have reached the Loring residence. Roger is not available at this time. It’s possible he is taking a nap. No, he definitely is taking a nap, but if he wakes up in a good mood, it might be possible your call will be important to him. Please stay on the line. We estimate your waiting time will be anywhere from long to really long.”
(Russell chose to wait. While waiting, he had to listen to untraditional Icelandic folk hymns played on bongo drums and a cigar box ukulele. It wasn’t just elevator music; it was the elevator-is stuck-in-the-basement music. After waiting for about five minutes, my answering system started up again.)
“Thank you for waiting. Roger is now awake and watching a basketball game on the Big Ten Network. It is in the third overtime. If you don’t want to wait any longer, you can hang up now and your call will be returned in the order in which it was received. No, dude, I’m just messing with you. That won’t happen. Roger doesn’t even know the order of your call because—are you ready for this?— he doesn’t care. Anyway, thank you for calling the Loring residence. If you still need something, perhaps you should go to Big Louie’s. He has everything.”
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