Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2001/ 20 Shevat 5761
Oh, for the sweet strains of 'How can I help you?'
FORGET "going postal." I'm going Micron. Amex. Amazon. USAirways. I'm going ballistic, bananas, bat-baloney over electronic telephone-answering devices while I wait to make actual voice contact with an actual human being.
I can't take it anymore! I want my assault weapon, and I want it now!
Oh, sorry, I was just venting. Forgive me. Nothing personal. It's just that I've reached the end of my frayed mental rope. I dread having to call anyone these days -- to question a bill, discuss a payment, change a reservation, complain about a faulty product or even report a leaky faucet.
No one, it seems, is unimportant enough to post a human at the telephone. I'm desperate for a heartbeat.
Owing to which, I've developed telephone aversion. The thought of having to make a call tempts my hand toward the Valium drawer. The very act of "dialing," as it were, produces panic as I face having to sift through voices, make numerical selections, listen to bad music, only to be transferred by the first human to yet another department where Electronic Hell begins all over again.
Is this any way to run a business?
No, but it's a sure way to drive a nation mad.
I seem to recall vaguely when receptionists first were replaced by electronic gadgets and forwarding devices. At the time, it must have seemed like a giant evolutionary step -- sort of like agriculture -- that would save money and put underemployed humans to better use. Today I picture large offices populated with smartly dressed computers that make human jokes while forwarding annoying callers from one station to the next.
You know the routine. You dial the number for, say, "Technical Assistance." A voice welcomes you, then asks you to select from the "Following Options," reminding you that what follows may be recorded for "Quality Assurance."
After five or six selections, during which Mr. and Ms. Machine doubtless are amusing each other with virtual laughing and winking, you (the human) are handed off to another human who seems sincerely apologetic, probably because she's equally relieved to make human contact.
Usually, however, I apologize first. "I'm sorry you got me," I tell them right off, "because I've been holding this phone for 15 minutes, and I'm an unstable, unhappy, homicidal maniac."
During a recent two-month-long "discussion" with a computer company, which cleverly sent me a new computer that still doesn't work, I got a female techie on the other end and took this as my cue to break down and bond.
"I don't know how men handle this kind of frustration," I say, "but I'm about to burst into tears."
"Here's what I'm going to do," she said maternally. "I'm going to give you my name and my direct number so you can reach me any time you need me. This usually calms women down."
She was right. As soon as I jotted down her name, "Anne," I was instantly soothed. When I tried to call back the next day, "Anne" was an electronic voice at a non-human's extension.
All of which prompts me to make the following suggestion to Business, whoever you are:
Forget streamlining, downsizing, electronic dialoguing. If you want to hog a market niche, put a human being into the front office and give customers a break from electronic roulette.
Give us a real voice to utter those five little words we long to hear: "How can I help you?"
For my money, a little "Hon'" on the end wouldn't be
JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.
02/08/01: Age is mostly a function of attitude
01/31/01: No class
01/26/01: Let's listen to children of divorce
01/23/01: If we could read Jackson's mind during prayers for Clinton ...
01/18/01: Don't look for lesson in this tale
01/15/01: It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it
01/08/01: Middle-school fanny slap or sexual assault? You decide
12/28/00: Doesn't take village to see through this
12/26/00: Guess who's whining about Bush's Cabinet of Diversity?
12/21/00: Kiss our coarse era goodbye
12/19/00: Ready to lay to rest the past and press onward
12/13/00: Court has Supreme authority
12/06/00: Legal relief: Attorneys in Florida court are welcome shift
12/04/00: When rules become flexible, children misbehave
11/29/00: Hard to forgive Dems' divisiveness
11/23/00: The answers aren't so complicated
11/21/00: The devil -- or is it really Nurse Ratchet? -- in Mr. Gore
11/16/00:In the end, the winner may be loser
11/13/00: Eliminate popular vote -- at least in Palm Beach County
11/07/00: Lesser of 2 evils? It's more like the lesser of 2 lies
11/02/00: Latest Jones' saga exposes a big irony
10/31/00: Hate-crime legislation and anti-Bush ad are flawed
10/26/00: Taking it to the streets
10/23/00: Headlines blur fiasco of family
10/13/00: Forget polls: Bush passes turtle test
10/06/00: Feminism: A cup that's half full?
10/04/00: Election-year reality check: Abortion is here to stay
09/29/00: For Gore and Hollywood, the mirror has two faces
09/26/00: Oprahfication of presidential political: It's all about feelings
09/19/00: It's not subliminal: Hypocrisy of moral outrage is obvious
09/15/00: So wear, oh wear, are we headed?
09/11/00: Do Steinem's wedding bells sound feminist death knells?
09/08/00: Grounded in her fears about flying
08/31/00: Dudettes that don't
08/29/00: AlGore wants to be his own man -- does he know who that is?
08/21/00: Dems manufacture emotions at convention
08/17/00: Hollywood divine? AlGore is miscast
08/08/00:Outreach: Good strategy and long-run policy
08/04/00: A sharp look back at the Vietnam War
08/01/00: Bush's choice of grown-up Cheney is a stroke of genius
07/24/00: Fired up and grossed out over stupid Canadians
07/20/00: Lack of judgment --- our critical flaw
07/18/00: 'Progress' for women often a step back
07/11/00: School essay watchdogs cannibalize our children
07/06/00: Youths fear marriage --- blame boomers
06/28/00: Eminem might just have a point
06/21/00: Bridging the day-care divide
06/15/00: N.Y. baby case ends up with multiracial scrambled eggs
05/31/00: The war only time wins
05/25/00: The opposite of sex
05/18/00: World War II gave us our true heroes
05/11/00: Boy Crazy! stacks deck against guys
05/09/00: Finding out where the boys are
05/05/00: A born Ms. Leader -- Barbie for prez
04/25/00: From here to paternity
04/14/00: Boys should be boys, not viewed as criminals in training
04/11/00: Oh, for a standard of what is socially, morally acceptable
04/06/00: Womyn's Contempt for Commitment --- and the bastards it creates
04/04/00: Sue-happy American society is out of control
03/30/00: Duct-taped baby serves as warning
03/28/00: Stay-home parents know that their kids need them
03/24/00: No 'Great Expectations' when schools shun the classics
03/21/00: It's common sense to restrict Internet usage in libraries
03/17/00: You want to be just a mom? For shame!
03/14/00: Colonoscopy: Important, but bad TV
03/10/00: I made a mistake about trigger-locks
03/08/00: After this school shooting, no easy target for our contempt
03/03/00: Car crash helps bridge our divide
02/28/00: Nasty politics? Americans like it down, dirty
02/14/00: College testing via
Lego-building -- yeah, right
02/02/00: Bubba should spare us phony love theatrics
01/26/00: What sets off Those Who Speak for Women
01/13/00: Fools in love: Premarital counseling could help school kids
01/11/00: Who funds these studies!?
12/29/99: Grandparents' rights impinge on family autonomy
12/13/99: When did fathers become fair game?
12/09/99: Don't be stupid about at-risk kids
12/07/99: Pokemon is no substitute for a father
12/02/99: Blaming the victim --- men
11/30/99: Baby-killer's story has less-than-Precious ending
11/23/99: Pendulum swings back toward discipline, responsibility
11/18/99: Put the babies first in this mighty mess
11/11/99: Skip the applause for this baby news
11/09/99: Gore could benefit from a secret in Wolf's clothing
11/03/99: Who needs 'birds and bees' when we have MTV?
11/01/99: Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say
10/26/99: Children's needs must take priority in divorce system
10/19/99: The deadbeat dad is less a scoundrel than an object of pity
10/15/99: Bullying boys ... and girls
10/12/99: Divorced dads ready to wage a revolution
10/04/99: A father's best gift? His presence
09/30/99: Sorry, guys, Faludi is no friend of yours
09/28/99: Science's new findings: Scary future for families
09/23/99: The great blurring of need and want
09/21/99:Focus on more than baby's first 3 years
09/16/99: Commentary from kids sheds no light on day-care debate
09/14/99: Fathers' group seeks to right inequities
09/09/99: Son now has a license to grow up
09/07/99: A slap in the face of domestic violence
09/01/99: No, ma'am: Legislation on manners misses the mark
08/26/99: For better boys, try a little tenderness
08/24/99:The ABC's of campaign questions
08/19/99: Male 'sluts'
08/11/99: Language doesn't excuse bad behavior
08/09/99: When justice delayed is still justice
08/03/99: Unemployment? Not in this profession
07/30/99: It's not about race -- it's about crack babies
07/22/99: Tragedy tells us what's important
07/19/99: Study denouncing fathers sends danger signals
07/15/99:'Happy marriage' belongs in the
Dictionary of Oxymorons next to 'deliciously low-fat.'
07/11/99: 'Brother Man': An American demagogue in Paris
07/08/99: Only parents can fix broken families
07/06/99: America is home, sweet home
07/01/99: Tales out of Yuppiedom
06/28/99: Men aren't the only abusers
06/23/99: Is the entire country guzzling LSD punch?
06/20/99: The voice remains -- as always -- there beside me
06/16/99:Stating the obvious, a new growth industry
06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology
©1999, Tribune Media Services