by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
The frustration one experiences in attempting to contact anyone in a large or even moderately large organization by telephone is compounded initially by automation and latterly by privacy legislation. Both features appear designed to defeat the caller in his or her attempt to communicate. The incident invariably ends in complete annoyance, usually only heightening the angst which prompted the effort in the beginning.
It strikes me as maliciously odd that whenever I am forced to listen to a series of options to press for service, I normally end by being urged to press “0″ for all other enquiries. And if you think you are now on your way to getting attention, relax. After being told that the subsequent conversation will be recorded for quality assurance purposes (a clearer example of oxymoron never existed!) what inevitably follows is another recording announcing that “We are experiencing higher than normal call volume”. This blurb is so standard that it makes one wonder if there really is anyone on the other end of the line, or whether there is only one person fielding thousands of calls, especially those which are of an unspecified nature. If you have ever been spoiled by having a further recording which predicts how long it will be before you will have a live attendant to speak to, the aggravation of the moment is increased if you are destined to listen to a constant repeat of the “higher than normal volume” routine. This loop (into which are often interjected unwelcome commercial promotions) can continue for the better part of an hour during which you begin to formulate the venomous rancour you intend to level at the unlucky attendant who eventually has the misfortune to take your call.
Often during these protracted proceedings one is invited to communicate with the organization through its web site. If you are foolish enough to relinquish the inventory of twenty-five minutes or more which you have now already accumulated in your call to Starship Command, you will very likely only add to your exasperation when you discover that the list of options of enquiry on the web site, like those on the telephone line, do not include your own area of concern. Even if you manage to finesse the web system sufficiently to succeed in sending an email, the best you will get in return is an email (to which you are cautioned not to reply because you will not get a response) which indicates that you will get a reply within three business days. This normally occurs on a Thursday, so your rapid calculation informs you that it will be providential to hear anything by next Tuesday at the earliest (assuming Monday is not a statutory holiday).
This undertaking assumes giant proportions which increase commensurately with the continued delay, and by the time you are finally connected with a live voice, your social skills have been eroded to the level of raw nerves and you are largely reduced to a snarling caged animal. But the punishment is not over. What follows is an expressionless enquiry from the attendant about everything from your name, address, postal code and blood type. If you have previously been asked to punch in your account number, you can safely expect to be asked to repeat it. That particular feature of the system is guaranteed to be redundant, once again adding to the enforced delay and repetition which now characterizes the call. You can usually expect the attendant to ask you repeat everything you say. And just so that we can enjoy our leisurely conversation, it is not uncommon to be asked whether the attendant can refer to you by your first name, an affectation which at this stage of the game is nothing short of a personal insult.
After these many preliminaries are accomplished, it is not uncommon to be told that your call must be redirected to another number. Either you will be given the number which you should call or the attendant may transfer your call. Whatever transpires, be assured that you will only re-start the proceedings from the beginning, subjecting yourself once again to the same automated enquiries and inevitable delays.
At this juncture, pity the well-meaning friend who happens to drop by to say hello and to ask how you are!