Monday, September 17, 2007

Hold the Phone

Visiting Hell and Holding

Telephone experiences feel phantom-like. You know you had them, but you can't prove it. Email evidence can be maintained, but those lost minutes, hours, and what seems like days trying to dodge, get past, get through, and get around the menu are gone forever.

When I am presented with a menu, I like food options to be available.

Instead, one of two voices greets me, assures me (usually she) can help if I press the correct number. She tells me what I can say. "You can say, 'account balance, technical support, reservations, order status, refill, missed delivery, new service, broadband' " and tells me to key in long numbers so she can pretend to pull up my account. A booping sound effect is supposed to give us the sense of someone working hard on our behalf. I say, "customer support, human being, representative, live person, agent," anything to trick the robot into giving up. It's come to this. I'm trying to trick a robot.

If I'm successful, I get to be on hold and listen to horrible music interrupted by the assurance that my call is important, I must hang on, and I must have patience. I have no patience. I put the phone on speaker and unpack a box, let the dogs out, make a sandwich. I sit in the sun with The New Yorker and the phone in my lap. Eventually, a person responds. Unless my cell phone breaks up. As it happens, I'm calling to end my cell phone service with this particular company. I've been trying for two weeks but She says they are experiencing an unusual volume of calls and I can expect a ten to fifteen minute wait. There is no place on their website to accomplish the farewell. You can expand your plan on line, extend a contract, pay for an allegedly free new fancy phone. You cannot break up with their company. Only their phones can do that.

Not all companies are understaffed. Just the ones that would rather not be bothered with pesky customers. None of this nonsense occurs with Lands End or LL Bean. They are human, and they are at the ready. It's the mail order prescription biz, the telecommunications companies, the airlines, the companies we must reach in order to keep our contact with the outside world on track that frustrate the consumer. We're wired. It's too late to turn back. But what a treat it was to call the Town Yard about recycling polices. Treat Defined: answered on the first ring, free bucket available, and a compliment on what a nice neighborhood we're living in. The woman buys pumpkins at the farm stand right next door to us. Her voice is nothing like Robo-Gal. Suddenly I remember a bumper sticker from the 70s. "Think globally, act locally." If only we could.