Monday, September 15, 2008

Modern Inconveniences - OR - Can I Strangle That Computerized Voice? Please?

Now that we're deep into the new millennium we're dealing with problems our ancestors never would have imagined. I'm not talking about big problems like educating our children, global warming, nuclear weapons, or the the public relations challenge presented by Sarah Palin's grand kid's baby daddy. I'm talking about those little problems, those itsy bitsy annoyances that just get under our skin. I'm talking about pet peeves.

Each generation has their own set of problems. With a wave of Greenness washing over the nation like a social consciousness tsunami, the environment is a big one we deal with. My dad lived in constant fear of a war with the Reds, serving in the Navy during the embargo on Cuba and that whole missile crisis thing. His dad lived through the Great Depression, never certain where his next meal might come from. His father, years before, fought against slavery. Before that, his dad moved his family West, suffering through famine and drought to make a better life for his family. His dad, way back in the day, dealt with... I don't know... broken butterchurns and faulty buggy wheels. Not only though did they deal with entirely different issues than we do today, but each generation had their own modern annoyances. Their own pet peeves.

My dad hates telemarketers. They just drive him batty. I don't know why he doesn't have caller ID to prevent this intrusion; I think perhaps he just needs something to complain about. Dad once told me that his father was a light switch Nazi, always complaining about people leaving lights on. Grandpa's father, probably before electricity was commonplace, got upset when toys weren't put away (with six kids, I'd imagine the wooden trains and those creepy old fashioned doll piles would get pretty huge). His father, my great-great-grandfather, hated it when visitors didn't latch the front gate and it would swing back and forth, squeaking in the wind. This is a man who's stress load would have been greatly reduced by the invention of WD-40. And his father before that, my great-great-great grandpappy, he was constantly irritated by... I have no idea. Buggies? Butter churns? Debates between the Whigs and the Torries?

Me, I live in a civilized society. I have conveniences in my life that make it so I don't have to deal with embargoes or slavery or creepy dolls or butter churns. Instead, as a citizen of our modern world, I get to deal with a whole new set of issues. I get to deal with the ultimate pet peeve for the new millennium. I get to call places on the telephone and fight through inane computerized prompts, hoping against hope, that maybe someday I will actually get to talk to a human being.

This morning, my wife and I realized we were going over our minutes on our cell phones. All I wanted to do was change my plan. I saw a good one, a special promotion, advertised on the website, but for some reason it wouldn't let me change plans online.No problem, I thought, I have a half hour drive to work. I'll just call customer service on my way.

As I pulled out of my driveway, I dialed the number. (Don't freak out you anti-cellphonites out there, I drive all back country roads to work. I'd need to see another car on the road to actually have an accident.)

A computer answered. Being familiar with the routine, I quickly pressed 1, telling the microchips at the home office that I'd prefer to conduct my business in English.

After a moment, the computer connected me to another menu. At that point, I had five choices to select from. None of them had anything to do with changing my plan. Since I wasn't listening all that closely, hoping there would have just been a "change your service plan" prompt that would have caught my ear, I had no idea what my other options were.

I did nothing. Nothing seemed like a good thing to do, because after a minute of silence, I heard a ringing. "Great," I thought, "I found a way to bypass the computerized menus and get right to a real live customer service representative." No. I didn't. Another computerized voice answered. She/it told me that she/it didn't understand my previous command and that I would be sent back to the main menu.

"Fair enough," I thought. It was my fault. I wasn't paying attention. I'd have to do it over.
I was connected back to a very pleasant computer lady. I told her again that I spoke English, by punching the "one" key on my phone.

I'd quickly gotten back to where I screwed it all up before. This time I listened closely to the options. I could chose to talk about my account, my bill, my remaining minutes, starting new service, or trouble shooting.

Oh, there it was. My account. That's got to be the way you change your plan. Enthusiastic, I pressed one. "How stupid was I to miss that the first time?" I asked myself as the computer switched me over to the next menu.

The computer, in that lovely, friendly voice then went on to tell me when I made my last payment, how much that payment was, how much my current balance was, and how many minutes I had used up already this billing cycle. Great, I already new all that, but that was convenient. Easier that looking it up online I guess. I waited,believing that there would then be another menu. Maybe it would ask me if I'd like to schedule a payment or if I'd like to change any part of my service or what not. It did not. It told me simply to press one to return to the main menu or two to end the call.

OK. I didn't get the information I wanted, so as much as I already wanted to end the call, I didn't want to end the call. I pressed one.

Back to the main menu. Again, I told it that I speak English. Again, I told it that I would like to talk about my account. I pressed one again, hoping that some glitch in the system had mistakenly not taken me to the next series of prompts last time. It did not. I found out my last payment, my balance, and my remaining minutes again. Great, I thought, now I know what not to do. I got it now.

Main menu. Yes, I speak English. Let's try billing. Maybe billing will lead me to where I want to go. Nope. Billing told me in that oh so pleasant voice, when I'd made my last payment, how much, my balance, and my remaining minutes (which had gone down since the last time I'd heard them).

Main menu. English, please. How about troubleshooting? Troubleshooting sounds very appropriate. This menu asked me if I was having trouble with my voice mail, text messaging, my handset, my bill, or online billing. None of the options were "Are you having trouble with the stupid computerized prompts?" I didn't know which one to press, so I went with 0. 0 stands for operator, right? Maybe that would just take me to a human. Maybe. I hoped.

There was a moment a silence, then one of those clicks that makes you think you've been connected to a person, then another computer lady told me that my choice was not a recognized response. She was very polite. She told me thank you. She told me to have a nice day. Then, she hung up on me.

I called back.

ENGLISH dammit. I haven't tried start new service. Certainly they let the new customers talk to a living breathing person, and certainly that living breathing person will be able to help me.
The new service menu asked me if I was a new customer or an existing customer with a new handset. I was neither, but I figured the computer wouldn't know I was lying. I tried to bluff my way through having a new phone to activate. It must have sensed something untruthful, because it too hung up on me.

I called back again.

Eng. Lish. Shouldn't English be a default? Shouldn't non English people have to go through all this rigmarole? Shouldn't speaking English somehow advance you thorough automatically?

New Service. New customer?

Now it wanted some kind of special numerical code from the side of the box my phone came in, the box I threw away years ago when I was finished being a new customer. I guessed. I just kept punching random numbers in one at a time, listening to see if there was a click or a buzz that meant I'd advanced to the next menu. Eventually, I'd typed enough numbers and that irritating computer woman told me that she didn't recognize the series I'd typed in. I believe I also heard her telling me that I was a lying sack of crap and that I needed to hang up and start over so that they could keep me in the living hell of computerized voice prompts. I couldn't hear her for sure, I was too busy screaming.

Hung up. Tried again. English. There was only one more main menu prompt I hadn't tried, check remaining minutes. I didn't want to press that button. I didn't want to have to do the quick math in my head and realize how many minutes I'd already wasted this morning. I did it anyway. Once again I found out when I'd made my last payment and all that other junk I didn't care to know.

At this point I thought about throwing the phone out the window and leading a more simplified life. I thought about being Amish and working the churn and building barns. No, that wasn't for me, too extreme. How about just back to when I was a kid? Computers were the future. Gas was eighty cents. McDonald's was a good wholesome meal. Rotary phones with the ffft ffft ffft ffft sound when you dialed them. A phone number with multiple nines in it took fifteen minutes to dial.

Ding. Light bulb. Some people still have those. They seem backwards and out of touch, but they must be able to escape the hell of computerized voice prompt menus.

I called back. English or Spanish? Nope. I refused to answer. I waited. And waited. And waited. I guess there's a certain amount of patience inherent in rotary phone dialers (those eights and nines just take forever), so they test you. Do you possess this level of patience or are you a big fat cheater? Just to make sure you're not lying to them.

Victory. A click. A voice. Dammit, it's another computer.

"Hello. I sense that you're having difficulty navigating our system.Speak clearly into your handset and tell me how I may be of service to you."

Oh, now this is cool.

"I'd like to change my service plan," I clearly stated, overenunciateing each syllable.

"You'd like to start a new service plan? Press one if that is correct. Press two to start again."


"Change plan." I said real loud and slow, like when you're talking to babies or foreign people.

"You'd like to start a new service plan?" the idiotic computer lady said again.


I thought real hard about what I was going to say, finally I came up with the brilliant plan to ask the dumb bitch to connect me with a person. "I'd like to speak with a person."

"Please enter your handset number with area code and I will check your account information."

Fearing that this would lead to me, once again, hearing about my last payment and all that, I hung up.

I called back and waited impatiently for the rotary phone police to get me to that stupid lady.

"I want to talk to someone with a pulse."

"You need help setting up your voice mail options?"

"A human being."

"You have a question about billing?"

"Can I please just talk to a human being?"

"You have a question about billing?"

"Is there anyone there that can help a very disgruntled customer?"

"Would you like to speak with a customer service representative?"


The compu-bitch connected me. There's the click. The ring. Another click. Oh please God, let a human answer the phone.

Muzak. I think it was Tiny Bubbles. It was kind of soothing. I think that's the plan. I little bit of relaxation and decompression time before they subject their living, breathing employees to customers that have just escaped the seventh circle. I listened for awhile, being sent back to warm memories of the very special Brady Bunch when they found to cursed voodoo idol in Hawaii. Then the phone hung up.

I silently cursed the entire universe.

I thought it was my battery or my signal, but nope, it just hung up on me. Again.

I called back one more time, vowing to, no matter how angry I was at the world, try the whole patience thing again. It worked. I got the lady. This time I decided to be patient with her too. Not say a word, thinking that maybe mute people got similar special treatment to the rotary phone folks. That worked too. Click. Ring. Ring. Muzak. This time it was Prince. Diamonds and Pearls. I had different warm memories, this time of the Prince video.

My warm memories were interrupted by the click of the damn thing hanging up on me again.

I was almost at work, in fact, I was waiting for a crossing guard to usher some of my students out of the road right in front of my school. I cursed the universe again. This time it was not silent. There was a new vocabulary lesson for a few kids this morning.

I gave up. I couldn't do it again. There wasn't an ounce of patient left in me to give it another go. Who ever said that if at first you don't succeed thing never had a cell phone. That's my lesson for today, isn't technology grand? We even talked about the pluses and minuses of technology for our journal in class today. I told the kids that I think great-great-great-grandpa had easy. Sure, he had to walk to school up hill both ways in the snow, but he never once had to hear, "if your butter churn is jammed press one, for churning assistance press two..."

Hey, if I made you laugh (even just a brief snorty chuckle sort of laugh) vote for me at Either way, leave a comment so I don't feel so all alone in this cold, cold world.


The Offended Blogger said...

I want to learn Latin so I can go off on these people in a language I am pretty sure none of them know. :p

Hey, you should sign up at cuz uh, well, I kinda know the owner and she told me to tell you she'd save a spot for ya! ;)

PlainOleMike said...

@the offended one - I was considering a similar approach, only I want to get one of those tapes to teach me the African clicks and whistles language.

Bee said...

Mike, as I have been telling you live YOU CRACKED ME UP!

Chelle you are such a hoochie and I love ya' for it!