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Absolutely the Worst Invention in the Last 200 Years

on 27 January, 2015


veryone knows what I am talking about. Unless you live in cave or in a sphere under water, you’ve encountered this.

What is “this”? The automated answering system. Actually, that is the runner-up, the first one is the automated answer system that talks and tries to interact with you like it is a real person. Wait, wait, wait… that is number two. Number One is when it *thinks* it can understand you and ‘talk’ to you.  Oh, you’ve run into this one too.


I’ve been fighting with the unemployment office for payments since I left my last job. That was the week before Thanksgiving week in 2014. Its a whole FUBAR system, since I work in both Kansas and Missouri, but live in Missouri. Gah! But their system *thinks* it can talk to me. And often, there is no option to skip ahead through the “helpful” tips and information as you wait.

I’ve done work on these systems, as a tester. The system I worked on was referred to as “IVR” (interactive voice response). I found out that each system has some built-in back doors so that they person building these systems (as well as the tester) doesn’t have to listen to the system drone on and on and on. There are ways around the keyed systems as well.

But when I tried to use the shortcut today, it just ignored me about ten times before it simply ended the call. Talk about frustration!

SYSTEM: Before I connect you to a customer service representative, I need some information from you. For example, if you want to place an order, say: PLACE AN ORDER. Or if you want to return an item, say: “RETURN AN ITEM. Blah. Blah. Blah Blah. Blah.
ME: Customer Service

SYSTEM: I’m sorry. Before I can connect your to a customer service representative, I need to understand why you calling.”
(The “SYSTEM” needs to understand?)
ME: Customer Service
SYSTEM: I’m sorry…
ME: Customer Service (getting a little angry).
SYSTEM: “I’m sorry, but I am having a little difficulty understanding what you are saying.”
ME: Customer Service! (a little more terse, but very carefully enunciated).
SYSTEM: “I am very sorry, but please tell me the reason for your call today….”
ME: CUSTOMER SERVICE!! (This was done with the phone at arm’s length.)
SYSTEM: “Perhaps you should try back at a later time. Thank you for calling.”

ME: @#$%^&*()_(*&^%$#

Its a good thing (sometimes) that we all still don’t have those giant 8 pounds bakelite telephones. thI’d be hammering the base with the handset. At least it was cathartic, right? There is just so little satisfaction to touching the disconnect button on your smartphone!

I used to work for a well known company that had a voice system that used to ‘congratulate’ you when you’ve been able to talk to the system enough for it to connect you. Worked for another place that they “system” used to talk in slang… like “Uh, let me see if I can find that for you.” I especially love (not!) the systems that think they should be able to have a conversation, regardless how inane your call might be.

SYSTEM: “Thank you for calling the XYZ Company. Please tell me the reason for your call today.”
ME: “I want to talk to someone about getting a refund for payment of an item that was never delivered.”
SYSTEM: “I think I heard you say that you want to schedule a delivery? Is that correct?”

And God help you if you’ve ever gotten stuck in a loop because of some defect in the system. I recall years ago trying to get my transcripts from a large university and whenever you pressed the key to be transferred to someone where you could talk to someone and/or leave a message, it would send you back to the top of the tree. Nothing, no matter what path you followed, you ended back at the top level. I know it was like that for at least two days as I kept calling trying to get my transcripts – but that crazy thing is that any number associated with the university had the same error. You simply could not call anyone there… even the IT team!

So, I wrote much of this post on hold with Kansas Department of Labor being bombarded with their “advertisements”, always giving the option of going online for answers. Would have gladly gone there except that that is where I started and the message that was waiting for me was “please telephone the Unemployment Contact Center for assistance.”

Oh. My. God!

Okay, I’d love to know whatever secret words or numbers there are to bypass the system. Like I said, when I tested this years ago, you could just say “customer service” whenever it prompted you to speak/explain your need. If you did that three times in a row, it would simply place you in a queue for the next customer service agent. I also heard – but cannot validate if this is true or not – that if you use profanity, you may be disconnected. Another one is that if you mention “attorney” or “lawyer”, your call will get pushed to the legal department. I am pretty sure that one is limited to this particular company or types of business, but its worth a try to get to a living, breathing person.

Another one that used to float around out there is #9. A long time ago, you could just hit the “0” and it would send you to a routing agent (also known as a receptionist or secretary or supervisor). This became a little too popular and it was discontinued. My experience is that it was replaced by hitting the “9” button or saying “customer service” over and over. But they must be on to that… hence why doing that today got me a wish to have a very nice day and disconnected.

Okay, rant over. As long as I don’t have to talk on the phone again tonight!



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