#158 When a human answers the phone

My office is open concept.

We’ve got short walls between cubes so we can all hear each other’s conversations. Yes, everybody knows when grandpa’s in the hospital, dinner needs sour cream, or junior wet his pants at school.

It can be a little distracting so some folks stuff their ears with headphones, others book rooms for phone calls, and the rest of us, we’re just working over here and listening in.

When you hear your office pals chatting all day you start noticing some voices rise higher than others. Sure, there’s tense phone calls home once in a while, but generally the biggest culprit of Telephone Anger is getting locked in a fierce battle with a voice-automated help desk. Yes, frustration fills the air anytime anyone rings up an airline, cable company, or government.

That’s when you overhear the painful ten-minute experience of Office Joe or Jane trying to talk to a computer. There is the extremely long pause before the stern “Option Seven, please” and “NO. SEV-EN.” There’s the frustrated hanging up and calling again. And there’s the exasperated attempts to exit the system completely. “Main menu.” “Request agent.” “Main menu, main menu, main menu.”

That’s why it’s great when a human answers the phone.

See, we’re not always great talkers, me and you. We mix up words, we have weird questions, and we don’t always know what we need. Option 4 might not rebook our flight and Option 7 can’t fix the mistake on our bill. We know we need a human to get things moving and we just want to find one to help us out.

Today we give high gives and big cheers to companies that ditch electronic prisons and just send us straight to someone who helps us keep moving.


Photos from: here and here

41 thoughts on “#158 When a human answers the phone

  1. Yes! I recently broke my cellphone (dropped it in the toilet…) and the process of getting a new one from the insurance company and activating it was ridiculous. When I finally got a competent, human customer service agent who worked for my carrier, I felt like singing :)

  2. Haha This made me laugh “And there‚Äôs the exasperated attempts to exit the system completely…”

    I’m usually the one screaming operator! operator! over and over again and repeatedly pushing 0 and 9. I learned that most systems automatically sends you to a human after your voice rises above a certain octave or you push the wrong button enough times in a row :)

        1. You’re welcome! I don’t think automated systems are necessarily evil. Sometimes it’s quicker and easier to use it than wait to talk to a person (like when you want to check your bank balance). But when your reason for calling is complicated, it’s important to have that option!

            1. I’m not a genius, the person who came up with it is!

              Well, okay, I’m a genius too, but not because of that. ;)

  3. Best part is even when u go through all that crap and pretty much have told them everything relating to ur problem when u finally get a human they immediately ask what u need help with. u pushing all the buttons or saying things earlier didn’t do a damn thing other than annoy u.

  4. I HATE those automated systems. There have been times where I curse out loud to myself while trying to navigate.. “oh for f****s sake, I want a real person!!!!!!!!!! HUMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’.
    I’m sorry, that is an invalid response.

    I was actually shocked one time when I yelled at the automated system, ( I was pmsing and NOT in a good mood) that I “just want a real person”.
    It said in it’s annoyingly pleasant tone. “one moment, I will redirect your call,” and I was answered in minutes. I was dumbfounded.

  5. This goes right along with #486

    I really don’t like calling somewhere I know I’m going to have to jump through hoops and push a million buttons or be put on hold forever just to do what I need to do. Yes, anything dealing with government is a pain.
    Talking to a human in these situations is only awesome if they are helpful. Otherwise its just a waste of time.
    Someone once told me that if you press zero enough times, you will get an operator, but I have yet to get that to happen. I’ve been disconnected by doing that.

  6. I like pressing buttons so much better than the ones where you have to say what you want and hope that the system understands, especially when what you need isn’t something simple.

  7. There’s a hilarious video sketch from a comedy troupe of a couple of Scotsmen trying to operate a voice-activated elevator. They’re trying to go to floor Eleven, but their Scottish accents can’t be understood by the elevator.
    If I hadn’t been banned from google searching at work after getting a nasty virus into our network, I’d post the link to this, but all y’all’s gonna have to find it yourselves if you’re interested. Warning, it does devolve into profanity, which I found out the hard way when showing it to my elder relative of Scottish background.

  8. I haven’t had to call any companies lately so lucky for me I havent had the robot talk to me (knock on wood that I won’t have to soon either). But I remember calling Dell and getting the robot and THEN the foreign person with a terrible accent that you can’t understand… lose-lose, not AWESOME.

  9. The worst thing about automated systems? Helping my elderly mom use such nonsense. It’s absolutely ridiculous to force older people to navigate this crapola!
    Plus, now that these companies use automated systems, that translates to less human employees (way to reduce the workforce, greedy multinationals!). Less human employees should mean my price goes down since I’m now doing some of the work, but I’ve yet to see lower prices. This is exactly like those stores with self-checkouts. A very sly way to employ less humans and make the customer do some of the work. Well, if I have to do the work then I want a frickin’ discount! Again, I’ve yet to see this increase in my labor and decrease in the company workforce translate to savings for me. This REALLY irritates me!!!
    Whew, I really needed that vent! Sorry. So, reaching a human on the phone is extremely AWESOME! I will go out of my way to do business with companies who employ people at the switchboard.

    1. I hate self-checkouts! I will wait in line to be checked out by a person even if there’s no line at the self-checkout. I like ensuring that the checkers have jobs, and even though it’s low-paying, it’s a job that ANYONE can do, and it’s important to keep jobs like that, especially given the state of the economy right now. Also, it’s nice to actually talk to someone before you leave the store. A smile and “have a nice day”, even if it’s insincere, is nicer than going through the whole shopping trip without interacting with a single person.

      I will admit that there is one occasion when I will use the self-checkout: if I want to pay with a handful of change. ;)

    2. Oh, and that’s the same reason why it annoys me that we now have to watch commercials before the movie, yet ticket prices still go up.

  10. When I encounter an automated system, my kneejerk reaction is to curse at it about how it needs to “let me talk to an actual human being, you ****ing worthless technological piece of ****.” I get redirected to a person pretty quickly after that. I think I picked it up from David Willis, the man behind the “Shortpacked!” webcomic, who said USPS wouldn’t let him talk to a person until he started cursing and apparently overloaded the system.

      1. Oh yeah. Terrible to machines, as soon as a human comes on I’m just nice as can be because I’m sure they’ve been dealing with people worse than me all day.

  11. Automated systems for some reason have no trouble understanding me. But I have been known to speak German to it, just to cut through the bull and get to a human.

    My partner likes to call the phone company and ask the computer for Swedish porn. Then it tells him, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that.”

  12. I’m callin thm out:
    Telus- I have a friend who was seriously assaulted by a customer in a telus office because of what went on at thir home trying to reach them through automation. She’s alright now but it was terrifying. This is the companies fault.
    For Telus, usually if yoy say “agent”repeatedly, you’ll get transferred to a human.
    The LONG speel and then record: press zero to speak to someone…you could switch that option to beginning of message.
    When really struggling with a company, there is a telecommunications commissioner in most places who will act on it.In Canada call Lee Ellen Carroll at 613-231-3355
    With the degree of poverty in this country, it’s absurd when some agencies literally refuse to speak to you. You have to email them. One we came across in was a human resources manager for CBC radio Canada. Can you imagine that! Some of the elders here would definately find that shocking as we did!
    Another was for fraud protection because our identites were compromised and people want to get on top of that immediately… but no…this was one of the most difficult processes ever been through!
    AND People assume everyone has a computer and can simply do that! And now adays most don’t even have the big black rotary phone as in the image to slam it down in their ear, which wouldn’t hurt the robot anyway!

    Screamin helps somewhat. At least you clear some blocked Qi’s…Qi-gong is good for the vital organs and the world at large!
    Yes, it’s awesome when you need a human specifically and you get a human who really likes their job and people too and are so happy to help!

  13. notalwaysright.com has some great customer service stories, some of which come from the actual humans answering the phones. Turns out we customers aren’t always such peaches to talk to.

  14. Love, Love, this – and so, so true. I could scream when you finally do get the right extension and the call terminates for whatever reason or I have to press “1” for “English” – sorry, I am not prejudice.

  15. We have reason to believe it’s a conspiracy! (New movie Michael?!)
    A friend in major urgent need called a gov’t health authority last week and it took 5 calls, nearly 40 minutes and a box of tissues later, she ended up back at the first number only to be told the individual never realized the other person worked in the same office. Hmmm, for 20+ years!
    Really, it’s no wonder people are losing it! They can’t even find “it” to begin with!

  16. On a brighter note, I had a wonderful experience with a Telus agent who took about 30 minutes with genuine kindness, even assisted to locate a # that would “enlighten” a new business for us. A real gem!
    We also have an agent lives nearby who has made house calls! Oh and imagine this, even consulted with his son, in our neighbor country who is a specialist in the field I required a second opinion for!
    Holla and sincere thank you’s to Bev and Lorne:)
    That’s awesome person to person human kindness…AWESOME!

  17. On voice activated systems, saying “agent” gets you to a live person. Also, pressing ‘0’ works a lot of times.

  18. The company I work for only rely on automated message when the office is closed, otherwise all calls get answered by a real person. If you call you’ll be talking with me *smiles and waves*.

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