How to get a human on the phone

Published 12:00 pm Friday, November 6, 2015

By T.J. Ray

On a lovely Saturday afternoon, two soft booms caught my ear — just as my electricity went off. Guessing that the booms indicated a blown transformer down on the street, I dialed the power company.

After the usual dialogue about office hours, a voice gave me a menu for further contact. With surgical precision, I decided the emergency number was the one to push. So I did.

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The same voice then told me to leave my name and number and the nature of the emergency and that someone would call back during business hours. Of course, I called back and each time chose a different menu option. Results: I never got through to a living person. I even considered dialing and asking the operator to contact the power company, except there was no one there to ask.

This week I called a doctor’s office. A nice voice told me to listen to the following menu before choosing. I waited and heard all seven options. Then I punched a number and got one of the extensions, at which time another voice came on the line to tell me that person was away from her desk. I was to leave my name, number, reason for the call, pharmacy, and med name. She ended by saying if I had further questions to call back and speak with the receptionist. SOOOOO, I called back. A nice voice told me to listen to the following menu before choosing. Isn’t this what programmers refer to as a Do Loop?

A day later that office called me. While we were talking, I asked the nurse how one got through to the receptionist, and she said to choose the first option: to make an appointment. As my problem had nothing to do with an appointment, I obviously had not thought to choose one.

Yes, I realize this has likely bored you, and you’ve concluded that T.J. has finally gone round the bend. Au contraire, mi amigo!

I’m just plain annoyed that in our modern world a person cannot get through to another person unless it is a personal call. In other words, calling a business or government office normally results in having to listen to a litany of useless information and in the end having no number to contact a live person.

While I know that time is money, my sense is that businesses erect these digital barriers to avoid hearing complaints and claims. It would be nice if a single corporation included “To make a comment or register a complaint” at the end of their telephone menus.

And if you’re that alarm company that’s going to be in my area and has chosen me to receive a free alarm system and keep calling back with different phone numbers each time I add you to the do-not-call list, I hope a wandering camel takes up residence on your desk.

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at