Jewish World Review July 24, 2002 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5762

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

Voicemail heaven? | This May, the Wall Street Journal informed me that U.S. companies are shelling out seven and a half billion dollars, give or take a buck or two, to expand their automated customer services, which means it's going to be even harder to connect with a real person: "Once, you could just press zero. Now.... American Airlines requires callers to press 6 and then say "operator." Sprint PCS recently began requiring customers to actually say the words 'live agent.'"

Why are they doing this? Well, despite corporate efforts to hinder personal contact, companies still shelled out $150 billion last year on call centers. Letting customers talk to a human costs about ten times as much as making them put their fingers to work.

This might surprise you, but I'm all for this brave new world.

Ideally, everything will eventually become so perfect that we won't even need customer service any more. Little tiny robots will serve us our coffee-- just the way we like it-- and if we try to get out of the store without paying, they'll zap us with little tiny lasers. It's a win win situation.

As a matter of fact, I don't think companies are doing enough to discourage us from bothering them with our petty grievances. Right now, many companies are offering us menu options that might be deemed helpful-- Press 1 for English, Press 2 for Spanish, and so on. I suggest we limit that to one option-- Esperanto. Frankly, I think we should all learn Esperanto anyway, and this would give us that incentive.

If we are calling with a problem, we should be disconnected immediately, or given the choice of entering birthday, customer tracking code, consumer product code, Mother's maiden name, and name of favorite pet, followed by the pound sign.

To make things a bit more challenging, make that the birthday, mother's maiden name, and favorite pet of the CEO of the company we are trying to reach. If the CEO was adopted, so much the better.

Make sure that all codes, when properly entered, merely repeat the options.

What if somebody actually wants to buy something? In my opinion, in the new economy that just leads to trouble. The product will break, or not work properly, and the company's right back where it started. I recommend making sure you get all customers'credit information, and then disconnect them.

As a matter of fact, we might be going about this all wrong. Instead of the companies being completely automated, WE should be completely automated. Replace our flesh and mood swings with smooth circuitry, and brushed aluminum. If we were robots with disposable income, life would be a whole lot easier for everybody. Except tech support, I suppose. But they're never around anyway.

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


07/18/02: At the movies with your friendly neighborhood curmudgeon
07/12/02: King of Kitsch
07/09/02: Musicians' brains
07/01/02: Where's my cow?
06/24/02: Modern record stores can be a scary proposition
06/21/02: Life IS a movie?
06/19/02: Spreading fertilizer on a dictionary to try to raise a novel
06/17/02: Happy cows are really miserable?
06/12/02: Very similar to a rock
06/05/02: Of Humice and Men
05/30/02: Pooches in sharkskin suits and the end of dog tags
05/22/02: We baby boomers used to rule the roost
05/20/02: The Files now Ex
05/14/02: Entangled in Spider-Man's web!?
05/02/02: April Showers May Come Our Yadda Yadda
04/24/02: From child murderer to milk hawker
04/10/02: New realities
03/21/02: You did it your way? I have to kill you now!
03/12/02: Life in the warehouse
01/28/02: Shoes and food
01/24/02: Suspension of disbelief has nothing to do with whether we accept something as real or not
01/22/02: Save the Grand Ole Opry?
12/15/01: If you truly want to appeal to the lowest common denominator
12/11/01: KNITTING!
12/07/01: Conspiracy by the 'fat suit' lobby?
12/04/01: The future of comic books
11/15/01: Literary tips in a jar
11/12/01: The ectoplasm of a ghost economy
11/05/01: Sumner Redstone's passions
10/31/01: My irony
10/29/01: Even in wartime, America can still bring it home
10/25/01: Ad memories
10/17/01: Pathetic me
10/08/01: War time lite
10/01/01: Confessions of a sarcastic scribe
09/11/01: The end of Mom
09/07/01: Boy Loses Girl, Boy Bites Girl, Boy Gets Girl
09/05/01: Virtual elegance?
08/28/01: Buzz!
08/23/01: Radio workout
08/20/01: I robot, you Jane
08/15/01: A wild and crazy world!
08/10/01: When the future was "as real as a dime"
08/08/01: Garage Dearth!
08/06/01: That Big Clock
08/02/01: Stop the pop!
07/31/01: Catchphrase history of the world
07/26/01: The Bride of Science
07/23/01: That java jive
07/17/01: Homogenized hegemony
07/13/01: Applying Newton's First Law of Physics to textbooks
07/10/01: The dumb and the dead

© 2001, Ian Shoales