How to get a human on the phone
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.