4/08/2008

When I am King: Holding Pattern

When I am King...

There will be more enjoyable messages to listen to while on hold.

I called a customer service number yesterday, wound my way through the whole "For trouble with your boat, press 1. For trouble with your blender, press 2. For trouble with your teenager, press 3..." and eventually ended up on hold.

I spent about five minutes on hold, which wouldn't have been so awful if there hadn't been a series of earnest messages kicking in every 10 seconds apologizing and explaining the delay.
"We appreciate your business and will be here just as soon as possible."
"We know you're busy, and we'll be here soon."
"We apologize for the delay; an operator will be available momentarily."
"We're not sure what's causing the delay, but rest assured our low-paid customer-service representative will be fired if she doesn’t pick up her phone soon."


I don't mind five minutes of silence. And I can get through five minutes of Kenny G playing his 'smooth' interpretation of Purple Haze. But five minutes of an apology loop was more than I could take. To make it worse, the woman that did the recording was just so darned perky.

Why do companies think that we need this constant reminder to us that they're not on the phone yet but they might be soon? We know that, or we wouldn't still be on hold. And why must they hire some overanxious voice-over artist to make it sound like she's actually there with me, truly, truly sorry for any delay that the company might be causing me?

When I am King, companies will improve their automated voice answering systems. First of all, there will only be one choice on the menu, "Press 0 for a human." Because honestly, how many times does your need ever fall into one of the nine buckets they give you? But you have to wait through them all to figure out that you really just need to talk to someone instead. Sure, pressing 0 will put you on endless hold, but that's where you'll end up anyway. Let's just make it quicker to get there.

Companies will also be required to play less annoying messages during the on-hold period. Options will include:
  • Silence. Why is silence so bad? With all of the noise and chaos in my life, I could use some silence now and then. In fact, I might call up customer service lines just to get a few minutes of quiet.
  • Music. Real music. No more smooth jazz that makes me feel like there's porn on the tube. You want to play a Rolling Stones song? Then play the Rolling Stones, not some pan-pipe interpretation of them.
  • Apologies: If a company feels compelled to explain themselves to callers, there will be no more fake tones of anxiousness. I want some real feeling and excuses instead:
    "Holy crap! You've been holding for a while. Lemme get someone."
    "Man, this place is like a ghost town. I can just hear the ringing, but nobody seems to be picking up the phone."
    "Hang on, we're dialing India."
    "Sheila went to lunch. She'll be back in a few. You want something from the deli?"
    "Hello sir, this is operator #4527b, I apologize for the - AIIEEEYAAAAHHHHGGG!-"
  • Jokes. Or maybe just while away the time with some bad jokes:
    "What do you call that thing you dialed with? I don't know, but it sure rings a bell!"
    "Do dogs have collar ID?"
  • Sounds. Alternatively, the soundtrack could just have some kind of realistic people sounds. For example, what about playing the sound of someone breathing and occasionally clearing their throat? Or tuneless whistling? Something to give us the feeling that someone is there, even if they're not actually talking to us. It'd be like most marriages.

The time we spend on hold represents one of the major activities in our lives when added up together. More than the time we spent getting that online degree. More than the time we spent playing catch with our kid, before he went off to juvenile detention. More than the time we spent flossing our teeth that we used to have. Don't we deserve for that time to be enjoyable? Or at least slightly less annoying?

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