Thursday, October 06, 2005

The decline of Western Civilization slowed-slightly—UPDATED

We all agree. One of the worst inventions of the modern world is the phone tree, the computerized system in which you have to keep pushing buttons in response to instructions when you are calling a company. It probably epitomizes the decline in service in this country. Instead of getting a human being, you get a computer. And then there is the time you call and go through 7 or 8 menus only to get a busy signal, meaning you have to do it all over again. Or it hangs up on you. And what if the menu selection doesn't actually respond to your situation? I hate it. Everyone hates it. Why we put up with it, I don't know. I once changed an insurance company because of their phone tree—I got mad as hell and wouldn't take it anymore.

Well, as you may known, many of these systems have an escape. You can often press 0 and get sent to an actual human being. In many cases, this doesn't work. So, some absolutely splendid people went off and did some research, and the result is a listing of how you can bypass the system for many companies. My thanks to David Pogue and his New York Times blog for this. If you'd like to find out how to talk to a real person and not some damn machine, click here. Of course, once the companies find out about this, they'll change the system. [By the way, the company that manufactures most of these systems swears they all leave the factory set to default to a human if you press 0, but many companies change it.] Pogue, by the way, calls it "phone mail," as do most people. It isn't "phone mail," it's technically known as interactive voice response or IVR. One of my peerless readers pointed out to me that even the people who manufacture IVR hate them and often leave a secret trap door in the programming so that when they call the companies that buy their product, they can go instantly to a human, bypassing the system. And, he says, if you get a busy signal or the machine hangs up on you, it may be a deliberate act to get rid of you. If a human did that you'd be pissed; if a machine does it, it's just a machine.

My son, incidentally, insists that in at least one system where you use voice commands instead of pushing buttons, if you shout "mother fucker" loudly enough, you will get switched to an operator. Try that yourself.


Silvermine said...

The people who set them up hate them too. They usually leave a backdoor for themselves to get to where they want to go without navigating the whole tree.

They can also set it up so that particular people/options/etc. will give you a busy signal or just drop your call. It isn't necessarily a mistake -- sometimes it's done on purpose.

They are completely evil.

(They aren't called phone mail or phone trees... they're called IVRs, for Interactive Voice Response.)

Joel Shurkin said...

I changed it to IVR and I thank you.