If there’s one cost-cutting technology that has almost killed positive customer relations with businesses, it has to be automated telephone answering. Nearly as awful, is the music customers must endure while waiting to take care of a business transaction.
The other day, I needed to discontinue my dad’s satellite television service. He’s been living in a nursing home since November, so the costly satellite reception has not been used. I called the corporate provider to wrap up this personal detail.
After a couple of rings, a recorded message asks if I speak Spanish to press the number 2 on my phone, if I speak English to press the number 1. I press 1. The voice then reads a menu of choices in order to route my call. None of the choices is relevant to my purposes. The voice repeats the menu, then adds the suggestion that I press 0 for help from an operator. I hear two rings, then another digital voice informs me that all the associates are busy. I’m requested to stay on the line for the next available associate. Soon, I hear an endless looping of insipid, tinkely flute music.
You’ve probably encountered the same basic string of events, too often. If you’ve called a large corporation, you’ve also like been told that your call is important to them, too. An automated voice has probably informed you that your call may be monitored to ensure efficient, polite communication. The automation then returns you to the distorted flute music that is much too loud. The musical presentation is then interrupted every 30 or 60 seconds for more repeated reminders that your call is very important to the company.
I’m old enough to remember the days before corporate staff reductions, outsourcing, and the desire to inflate the incomes of executives. I could rest assured that an honest to goodness actual human being would answer the call. She or he was able to direct my call to the proper individual so enabling efficient communications. In most cases, the operator or secretary was professional, polite, and concise. I was left with a positive impression of the company. If I was placed on hold, it was for only a short duration and the music didn’t seem as innocuous.
I suppose that cutting back human operators and secretaries saves companies plenty of money. I’m sure that the automated alternatives have probably cost as much or more money and negative corporate public relations than has been saved. No doubt, there will be more lifelike telephone automation in our future. Examples of those efforts can be heard if you have the misfortune of needing to call the phone company.
The devices are quite cheap, so it’s understandable, from a bottom-line point of view, that businesses find them attractive alternatives to human beings. The gadgets are, basically, sophisticated answering machines. If you’ve ever programmed an answering machine, you could probably program an automated business answering device, too.
Because of the widespread proliferation of automated phone answering, we’re just going to have to accept the impersonal inconveniences awhile longer. There are some positives to go along with the robotics. Phones can be answered 24/7; calls can be automatically routed; there are outside phone transfers as a possibility; voice mail recording and retrieval; email prompts and notifications; and online reporting possibilities.
I don’t intend for this posting to be a mere rant. I’m hoping that some system administrators and engineers will read this and find ways to make phone interactions with customers more painless and positive. I also harbor some hope that some business executives will read this and recognize that their choice to automate can have negative consequences for their companies and customers.
Perhaps phoning a corporation for help will be a smoother, more happy experience, sooner rather than later.
The Blue Jay of Happiness once read that the 19th Century German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss allegedly responded to news of his wife’s impending death by saying, “Ask her to wait a moment – I am almost done.”