Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 1-23-05
By Jeff Gill

You Are In Training

Pretty much all of us have been in a training program of one sort or another. Workplace, volunteer, skill development, school all offer training to help us master a new technology or way of doing things.
We are all just about done with a training program that we have all been in without quite noticing it. Modern society is completing the process (will there be a certificate mailed to us at the end?) and we’ll go on using our newfound skills for the rest of our lives, I suspect.
You and I are becoming well-trained voice-mail menu operators. We’re getting good at this, aren’t we? Somewhere over the last five years, the idea of a human voice being the first, rather than the last step of a contact process with a business or institution started phasing out. Fewer and fewer places, even fairly small operations, have a "receptionist-operator" on the phone.
And now we expect to be greeted by "welcome to our voice mail network; some menu options have changed, so please listen for the option which most closely meets your needs."
Personally, I can’t be trained enough to ever like "your call is very important to us, so please stay on the line for the next available operator." What industrial psychologist did the study that told everyone who designs these things that we want to hear automated affirmation? And when the robovoice says "your call is extremely important to us," I can’t help but think, "No. If it really was extremely important, you’d sit by the phone, eyes locked to the handset, waiting for it to ring, or buzz, or chirp, or whatever. But extremely important ain’t Ms. Autophone, dude."
But there is a logic which has started to convince me about these menus. Many concerns or questions can be answered "automatically" with a touch-tone menu. Most of us have some kind of internet access, where we could be routed to get a better answer than a minimum wage part-timer would give us, no matter how politely, so thanks for the hints to go to the internet while I’m waiting on hold. And the amount of mindless work that can be punched in before I talk to a live person has got to be a savings for both me and the company in time and money.
So I’m getting myself trained, like all the rest of you. I’m getting better at navigating without hesitation or aggravation through the "press 2 for a billing question, press 3 for service options, and to register a complaint, hang up and shout at the phone."
A few tips from those of us a little further along in the training program: when you absolutely, positively, have to talk to a people-person, press 0. You may get another menu: press 0 again. Press it once or twice more, if you like (really, some places make it 4 tries at 0 to get an operator, in the theory that you’ll get frustrated enough between 2 and 3 tries to either stick with the menu or hang up), but that’s how every commercially available voice mail system routes callers to the elusive "live operator."
If any professionals with these systems are still reading, a last note. Aside from my own frustrations when holding a pencil, three forms with long numbers on them that all look alike, and a daily planner on my lap, I think of elderly relatives and friends when a system gives you about four-and-a-half seconds before either chiding you or routing your call into an unwanted queue. Guys, some of us out here in consumer land who understand you gotta have these systems and want to work with y’all: we can’t all see great, we’re a bit overwhelmed by life or events, we have shaky hands or uncertain reflexes. Can you put a "go slower" button in the menu as an option, before Aunt Tilly completely gives up on the modern world? Thanks.
And yes, I have moved recently. How did you know?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and occasional preacher around central Ohio; if you have adventures in voice mail to share, write (don’t call!) disciple@voyager.net.

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