Wednesday, January 17, 2018

No Humans Here, Go Away

Well once again it's pet peeve time here at The Chant. Where I gripe about things I don't like. (And you can chime in with your "favorites" in the comments.) Today's topic covers those annoying automated phone systems that so many companies are using now. I was inspired to write this post by listening to a colleague trying to reactivate his corporate credit card the other day.

Back in the day it was fairly simple to get around the automated system by simply pressing zero when the machine begins its spiel. But the folks who program those systems defeated that dodge fairly early in the game.

Pressing "0" remains a viable option in many systems, but not until you've had to listen to the whole thing. Many, if not most, of which start like this:

Hello. You've reached [Some Organization Name].

Listen carefully because some of our options have recently changed...

Oh wait, I missed a step:

Press 1 to continue in English...

Presiona dos para español.

Can't forget that, can we? Are there more selections in cities with a high proportion of immigrants from non-Spanish speaking countries? I know that in Boston, in hospital reception areas, there are signs which indicate the many (over 20 as I recall) translators available to the discerning potential patient who may or may not speak English.

Did they have similar services in Korea when I was there?


How about Germany, or the Netherlands?


Most countries expect that if you are using the local services, then by all rights you should be able to speak the local lingo. Except here in the immigrant-friendly US of A. Because we're all immigrants here, right?


But yes, I digress.

These systems certainly free up a human from having to answer the phone. A good system is designed to allow the caller to get useful information without having to ask a human. For instance, perhaps you need to fax something to the company, many systems will give you the fax number, the email address, etc. of the company. No need to bug a human.

Of course, most people calling don't want the fax number, email address, or some other useful tidbit of information. No, they wish to speak to a human for one reason or another.

Now my doctor's office has one of these automated systems and I've gotten used to it, even if it is most annoying at times. And really, how many times does this happen -

Bubba: Oh my Lord, I have just cut my foot off with a chainsaw.

Cletus: Geez Bubba, you probably should see a doctor about that.

Bubba: You're right Cletus, let me call my doctor! Hand me that phone.

Hello, you have reached Little Rhody Medical Services, if this is a medical emergency, hang up and dial 911.

Bubba: Well heck yeah, I should just dial 911.

Seriously, that's the message I get when I call my doctor's office. Do people in this day and age not know to call 911 when they have an emergency? Hell, people call 911 when their pizza is late. I guess that common sense ain't all that common.

Now I want to address that whole "some of our options have recently changed" thing. Now 99 times out of a hundred they have not changed, they're the same options they've always had. But I swear, just last week my doctor's office actually changed one of their options. For the first time since they installed the system, an option had actually changed.

Are you like me, you know exactly what option you want so that when the recorded voice starts reading off the options, you go ahead and press "1 1 3 5," or something similar? Expecting to hear "Doctor Smith's office, can I have your name and date of birth?" Thinking (hoping) you've reached the appointments line. And instead you hear, "That is an invalid option, press 1 to go back to the beginning."

So you press "0," thinking that that will produce a human on the other end.


That is an invalid response. Please hang up and try again.

Really? Try again?

And if you're calling on a cell phone and you're cheap (like me) and your minutes are precious and oh so few, you finally get to the correct option and hear -

All of our operators are busy right now, assisting other customers. Please stay on the line, your business is important to us.

Then the elevator music starts to play. Over, and over, and over, and...

Eventually you hang up, not wanting to waste those precious minutes. Thinking, "If my damn business was so damned important to you, you'd hire more people to answer the phones." (Nah, I never do that.)

On the other hand, have you ever been in a doctor's reception area and listened to their side of the conversation?

Receptionist: No ma'am, we don't have an appointment scheduled for you. Would you like to make one?

Caller: No, I know I have an appointment on Wednesday.

Receptionist: Wednesday this week?

Caller: Yes, I'm sure it's today.

Receptionist: No ma'am, I'm not showing anything in our appointment book.

Caller: I'm sure I had an appointment today with Doctor Green.

Receptionist: Uh, this is Doctor White's office. We have no Doctor Green here.

Caller: Well, let me talk to Doctor Green's receptionist...

No, really, I have heard that very conversation while waiting at the front desk. Folks get confused, call the wrong number, wade through the system, only to discover that they've got the wrong number.

If Skynet ever becomes a reality - once the computers become self-aware - there will be no launching of nuclear missiles to destroy the human race, no, every single phone call on Earth will go to an automated system. We will all die of starvation, or commit suicide, while trying to complete our calls, while listening to horrid elevator music.

Or yeah, that could happen.


  1. You actually can eventually get to a human at your doctor's office? Keep that doctor! I navigate the automated system and finally get to an answering machine asking for name, DOB, weight, height, BP, date of last colonoscopy.....finally ending with we'll contact you as soon as convenient, or something along those lines. It's a good thing I like the Doctor, because the Praetorian Guard he has in the office is extremely efficient at protecting themselves from work.

    1. Wow?!?!? No humans at all? That's pretty unbelievable but I'm betting that's the eave of the future. As more kids get useless degrees which won't allow them to get meaningful work and as the SJWs agitate for higher and higher minimum wages, the robots will eventually run everything.

      Heh, Praetorian Guard, I like that.

  2. When I get a call and my caller ID doesn't show who it is, I don't answer. I figure if it's important, whoever is calling will leave a message and then I can decide if I want to return the call. And I have special ringtones for all those who I know I will want to talk to so no need to even look to see who's calling. Yeah, I know, I'm a big anal orifice!! ;-)

    1. Um, we were talking about the other end of the line, but all you say is true.

      I don't have special ringtones but if I don't recognize a number, it doesn't get answered. Like you say, leave a message and if you're someone I want to talk to, then your number gets added to my list of contacts.

      And those are the only calls I answer. Ever.

    2. I have a landline solely for emergency use. I don't answer calls to it, period. On my cell, if I'm not expecting a call from an unknown number (e.g. one of the many, many, many, repair folks I've employed over the past few weeks), I don't answer that either. I might listen to a voice mail if from an unexpected unknown if I'm feeling charitable, but.....

    3. Juvat, we also keep a landline (actually it's VOIP) for emergencies and also for talking to our oldest son who lives in Germany. Cell phone calls from Europe can get mighty expensive!

  3. A similar peeve is the voice activated ones that don't really activate. REPRESENTATIVE. I SAID REPRESENTATIVE YOU STUPID !@#$%&. Although I read somewhere that # then zero will bypass the system and get you to a real live actual human-type person.

  4. Robocalls from spoofed numbers are gonna drive me up the flippin’ wall.
    The so called “DoNot Call” list is worthless.
    No, it’s by end that.

    1. Yup, the "Do Not Call" is an abject failure.

    2. Like juvat, we have a land line for backup as well. We also never answer it as the only calls it gets are robo sales calls. Often as not, the caller ID says "unavailable" to which I respond "Excellent! Neither are we". So I stumbled across this a few days back--

      And, per George Carlin, "If you're on hold, and you die, does the little blinking light at the other end go out?".

    3. Seriously thinking about the Jolly Roger thing. $6/year to poke telemarketers in the eye? Money well spent!

    4. RHT447 - Use robots to fight the robots, I like it.

    5. Juvat - I can picture you as a pirate. Hell, I can picture most fighter pilots as pirates.

      Must be kindred spirits or something.

  5. Grrrrrr. I HATE THOSE THINGS!!! Sometimes if you yell REPRESENTATIVE you get a person. Actually Mrs. C tells me to just say representative, but I find if it works at all, it only only works if you yell...really friggin LOUD!

    1. Oh dear Lord, don't get me started on those 'bots who allegedly understand the spoken word. Hate is too soft a concept...

  6. The worse are the endless looper systems. Call in, select your version of 'Engrish,' select your selection, wait an eon, 'get' an operator who is actually an automated voice system, which sends you to another phone tree, where you get another AVS, which sends you back to the first phone tree, where you get the original AVS, repeat, repeat, repeat, until, after your cell phone starts screeching at you due to imminent power failure or smashing meteor of death, you actually get a real, live human, who either: 1. Couldn't make it out of whatever sh#$hole it came from and you realize you have reached an off-shore (or way off-off-shore) call center where 'Engrish' would be an improvement. Or... 2.) puts you on hold and either your brain dies, or your phone dies, or the SMOD hits. Or... 3.) You win. You actually get someone. You get someone who can actually speak and understand real live 'American English' and who actually lives in real live America (the USA portion) and who can actually answer a question and you find out they have the mental capacity of a gnat and you have to climb up the chain to either a supervisor or another operator (thus potentially starting the cycle all over.) Or... 4.) You finally reach the pinnacle of achievement, you have defeated the 'phone tree boss' and your award is at hand, and the person on the other end of the connection is actually able to answer your question, and help you and the answer is, of course, "No."

    Thus is my experience with United HealthCare HMO, where the only provider of a service my wife needs desperately was 250 miles away, even though there are 15 clinics in my city that provide the service, but they all are not 'providers.' Not providers? If I had a fist full of dollars I could walk in and get provided, so explain to me exactly how they are not able to provide to me health care that I need?

    Now I am on a PPO. More cost out of pocket but now I can actually see someone in my same time zone.

    And I hate the phone tree system. I spend more time on the phone trying to get service than it takes to actually show up and get serviced.


    And now, of course, I need labwork, so I try to schedule an appointment on the net, and their system won't let me input my name. So I call the lab, and they say to use the net. So I go to the net and the system still doesn't work. So I call the lab and again find someone who has less mental acuity than what my dog just squeezed out her rear. Who can't just friggin pencil me in.

    Oh, that's another thing. Bad enough to show up at a doctor's office and have to wait the obligatory 1/2 hour or more past your appointment time. But what happens when the computer is down and they can't input everything from your bp to your shoe size right there and then? It's the end of the world. This actually happened to Mrs. Andrew. So here we are, the waiting room is full up of disgruntled people because the records computer isn't working, so Mrs. Andrew decides to become Spartacusette and starts speaking, loudly, as to "I remember, in the old days, people could write the information on a piece of paper and then later input it in to the computer." Disgruntled patients take up the call to "Write, Write, WRITE!" Fifteen minutes and many evil glances by the office trolls and suddenly someone gets the idea of writing the info down and inputting it later. Gaah, people just don't think anymore.

    1. Brilliant rant, simply brilliant.

    2. That was a good one wasn't it? I'm beginning to think young Andrew is classically trained in the art of the Rant. Possibly even professionally trained.

    3. A classically trained Rantist?


    4. Thank you, thank you. Went to the school of Smart Ass. Placed top honors, too.

      Unfortunately, most of the people around me when I was growing up went to the school of Beating the ass of the Smart Ass. And were in the tops of their classes too.

      So, unfortunately, though I slayed them with a +5 Rant, their +1 Knuckles would sweep the field.

      Oh, well.

    5. Sounds like a "scissors, rock, paper" kind of thing.


  7. "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity."
    Robert Heinlein, The Green Hills of Earth

  8. Another RAH reference, I always answer the phone because there is the possibility that I'll get to be rude to someone.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  9. Puny humans! Always thinking they will be replaced by machines! How naive! Er, I mean, yeah! Totally plausible!!

    1. I am working on a 'bot which will write all my posts for me.

      Too bad the damn thing can't type to save it's artificial life.

  10. I have a landline because when I pick up the phone at oh-dark-30 and punch in 9-1-1, I don't want the system to waste time trying to determine which cell tower I used, or trying to fix the phone's location. My landline goes right to the county dispatchers. I like that.

    Second, the tonal quality is still way better.

    As for the Spanish ting, any business worth its salt will serve the community before it. Betcha if I go to Brighton Beach, I'll find lawyers and accountants who speak Russian. Bet that up around St. Albans and Newport, VT, you'll find Francophone services.

    If people speak Spanish, companies will offer services in Spanish. Because capitalism.

    1. First paragraph is exactly why I have one. Second reason is they're not dependent on cell towers being operational (for a Cell) or my network being available (for VOIP). Mrs Juvat had one of her regulars come in a while back, and while chatting discovered the lady's husband had recently passed away. In the discussion she found out he'd had a heart attack and tried to call 911 on the cell. The wrong tower picked up the signal and the ambulance was delayed just long enough. While he probably couldn't have made it back to the house to pick up the land line, still I'd like to minimize the risk if I happen to have one available.

    2. Comrade - Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the other languages thing, being an amateur linguist along with my amateur historian thing, it's just that there should be more than just Spanish, depending on locale, of course. For instance, around these parts there is a rather substantial Portuguese population, and there is no equivalent for the Portuguese, many of the older ones have no English.

      But rest assured, every lawyer's ad I've seen in these parts indicates "Se habla español" (which I've heard is grammatically awkward) as well as "Nós falamos português."

    3. Comrade and Juvat - The 9-1-1 thing is why we still have a land line. It's also something of a telemarketer sump, they can't seem to resist it.

  11. Back in the day when I managed car lots, I physically escorted someone trying to sell us an automated system out the door. Followed that by telling the manager if she every wasted time on that again..............

    The point is this. If you want me to spend my money at your firm, best you make it easy for me to contact you. My time is more important than yours.

    Of course, the malaise is so pervasive I must succumb from time to time. Then, I look for an alternative source.

  12. "We're experiencing higher than normal call volumes. Please wait on the line and the next... etc."

    No you're not, you cheap buggers. You just cut down the number of people who answer the damn phone. Your pants should be on fire 24/7.

    The only people who actually care about customer service put on one of those 'we'll call you back automatically' options or an estimated hold time. The rest of them are just waving their private parts at you and laughing.

    1. Re: just waving their private parts at you and laughing

      I think you're onto something there. And folks think fishermen aren't complicated. 😉

  13. Funny how when I was in Mexico, no one ever told me to "Press 1 for Spanish, Press 2 for English..." It was just "Speak perfect Spanish or we'll pretend not to understand you even though most of us speak English passably well when we want to."

    1. Sounds much like Germany. Or 90% of the other countries on the planet.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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