Your call is very important to us

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If you’re on the phone and you hear the following words, you’ll know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what you’re hearing is a big, fat, hairy LIE: “Your call is very important to us. The next representative will be with you shortly.”

Yesterday I heard that whopper roughly 67 times while I waited for a non-computerized voice to come on the line and offer what we used to know as “customer service.” But thanks to technology, the machines have taken over customer service centers and their mission is to prevent us from reaching the real live humans, if at all possible. I’m pretty sure the real live humans are on a beach in Tahiti.

What’s ironic about this automation trend is that when a customer takes the time to find a company’s phone number and make a call, it’s usually because he or she has a somewhat urgent need. After all, when’s the last time you called a customer service number just to chat? If you’re calling, it’s because all other attempts to solve the problem have failed and the phone call is your last resort.

But there’s something about that disembodied voice telling me how important my call is that makes me doubt her sincerity, since important things are typically dealt with swiftly and by someone with a pulse. I think I liked it better when companies just played that bad “on hold” music, like the instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” played on the pan flute.

Companies should do something creative with their “hold” times. Have the computer lady tell me funny jokes or share some interesting trivia factoids. Tell me a suspenseful story. Tell me the secret to beating Level 103 of Candy Crush. Tell me how to make strudel. Tell me what’s happening in the national news. Tell me ANYTHING besides how important my call is to you because, clearly, it is not.

on holdSome companies will at least give customers a ballpark estimate of how much longer their call center purgatory will continue. They’ll say something like “Approximate hold time is 12 minutes.” And as much as I don’t want to sit around and wait for 12 more minutes, at least I know what I’m dealing with. It tells me if I have enough hold time to go make a sandwich or if I’ll be sitting there long enough to learn Portuguese. Either way, I like knowing what I’m in for so I can decide if it’s a wait I’m willing to make.

If companies keep putting machines in charge of customer interaction, can you even imagine what a trip to the Emergency Room might be like one day? You’ll rush through the automatic doors only to find a phone on an abandoned desk with that all-too-familiar computer voice coming through the speakerphone:

“Thank you for rushing to the Emergency Room. I can help you if you tell me why you’re here. Just say something like flu, appendix, hemorrhage, heart attack or accidental impalement.”

“I think I heard you say appendix. Is that right?”

“Okay, your appendix is very important to us. Please hold and the next medical representative will be with you shortly.”

Ten excruciating minutes later, the voice will come back on the line and say:

“Your appendix is very important to us. A medical representative will be with you shortly. If you experience earth-shattering, mind-blowing pain in your lower right abdomen, please say the word “burst” before you pass out from the unimaginable agony, and a medical representative or coroner will be with you shortly. Thank you for calling.”

“Did we mention how important your call is to us?”

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