View from the hill

What do you feed a pet peeve? -Anonymous inquirer

The question above was posed to readers at Agriculture Online’s Tall Tales chat room recently. Pet peeves seem to survive and even thrive in any environment. Maybe that’s because there are so many opportunities for them to take root and grow.

For instance, take one of my not-so-tiny pet peeves: automated telephone responses. It began as a simple little irritation that I now love to hate.

In the past year, I’ve made phone calls to numerous businesses, colleges, federal agencies, Sallie Mae Loan service centers, federal and state tax agencies and even phone companies. They all have contributed to the loss of productive time because of their automated phone systems.

Here is a typical automated phone response I received from a credit-card company on a billing error: “You have reached X company. We want you to know that we are dedicated to serving you, the customer. Our goal is satisfying your needs. Please understand that it is company policy that we may record your phone conversation solely for employee training in customer services. And we thank you for your patience.”

Some businesses seem to recognize the customer’s need for patience. I am already thinking, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

The non-human receptionist continues: “For customer service, press 1. If you know the extension of the person to whom you want to speak, press 2. If you would like to receive promotional information on our special offers, press 3. If you would like to listen to our menu again, press 4. If you….”

I am still in control of my emotions, but growing a little impatient. How long will this thing drone on before I get to speak to a real person?

I quickly pressed 1.

The receptionist replies: “You have pressed 1. If this is correct, press 1 now.”

I always thought computers worked on the principle of “garbage in, garbage out.” And the computer wants to confirm what they already know?

On the other hand, I know they are just checking to see if I pressed the button by mistake, so I pressed 1.

The receptionist responds, “You have confirmed you have pressed 1.”

At least we got that settled.

The receptionist continues: “To get your account balance, please enter your account number now, followed by the # key.”

I suddenly realize I have made the wrong choice; this routine will not get me a real person. But since I am in the routine and will waste even more precious time by hanging up and going through the list of options, I entered my account number and the #.

All I wanted to do was talk with a service representative to correct a problem with the billing statement.

I hear a voice saying: “You have entered (account number). If this is correct, press 1 now.”

I pressed 1.

Again, the voice replies: “Your account balance is $59.95. If this is correct, press 1 now.”

I do not press 1. It is not correct, but the digital receptionist offers no other options.

After waiting for three minutes without so much as a beep or elevator music, the phone connection is severed.

OK, real words do not suffice here, so I am thinking: “AAAUUUGGGHHH!”

I redial the number and go through the entire scenario again, wondering what option I overlooked. I cannot press 2 because I do not know the extension number of anyone at this national chain.

So, with four minutes of my precious time already drained, once again I decide not to ruin my chances of prematurely hitting the wrong button and let the voice continue its little routine to the end.

And there it is, the last option after more wasted precious time, option 9: “Please stay on the line for further options.”

What does that mean? How many more options do I need? I may die of old age before I hear all the options. I only want one option: to speak with somebody.

While I am waiting, the sound of elevator music in my ears seemingly lasts forever.

What happened to good old-fashioned customer service when a real, live person answers the phone? Where is that genuinely friendly voice who actually knows the person who can solve your problem?

Having invested so much time in my phone call, I feel trapped. But I decide I have no other choice but to “stay on the line for further options.”

Minutes go by before the phone system rings up another answering service. The pleasant but annoying voice responds: “Currently, all our customer-service representatives are busy. The estimated waiting time for calls to this number is…10 minutes, 25 seconds.”

Once again, I am left on hold with the music from hell ringing in my ears.

That’s it! I hung up the phone and have not used that credit card again.

A few years ago, the only entity that consistently abused the phone caller was the federal government, with wait times exceeding one half hour or more.

Today, the problem has spread into the marketplace-thanks to all the mergers and takeovers-creating super-large businesses that have become unresponsive and slow.

And their service departments have rushed to automate their communication systems in an effort to cut costs and streamline their operations. But they have not maintained a satisfactory level of customer service.

It is time customers receive at least some benefits from all that streamlining. Customer patience should not be abused.

It would do wonders if there were a few more human beings available to take the phone calls and actually provide some genuine service.

Enough said.

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