As we get close to saying goodbye to 2016 I have discovered that we suck at saying goodbye.
In this last month of the year I spent a lot of time on the phone. I had to pick a new insurance and because it is a milestone change I used a broker. I have a car due for service and inspection. I was in the hospital, a couple of times, so I got a couple of “Hi! How are we doing?” calls, and I had to make a couple of rounds of followup doctor appointments. And it was the holidays so I had to check in with some folks to see how they were doing. So, when otherwise I might use my phone primarily as an alarm clock to not miss any of the several doctor appointments throughout the year, this month I used it as an actual communication device.
And thus discovered that we suck at saying goodbye.
All the calls started out right. And calls with people who actually know my first name as opposed to those reading it from a computer screen were mostly able to successfully end a call. But the others. Oh, the others. It was like the final dress rehearsal for the bad movie scene in every bad movie where two people try to go through a doorway at the same time. After you. No. After you. No, no. After you.
It seems that those who have been trained to make appointments had training stopped somewhere before “Thank you for calling. Have a nice day. Good bye.” Instead it goes more like this.
“You’re all set. Is there anything else I can do?”
“No, thank you. Good bye.”
“Well, thank you. And don’t forget to bring your insurance card.”
“Right. Good bye.”
“And please arrive 15 minutes early.
“Got it. Good bye.”
“Well then, you are all set. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No thanks. Good bye.”
Thank you for calling. If you need to cancel, change, or…”
See you next year. Probably 15 minutes early. Good bye.
That’s what I think. Really. How ’bout you?
It seems to us that every time you call a bank, an insurance company, some retail store, the local ballet company, your drugstore, your spouse’s work, your work, anybody’s work, or even your kid’s school you are greeted with, “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.” Really? And when was that change anyway? We’ve been calling the same numbers for years and they all connect to the same recording that starts every call with “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.
We don’t remember what the choices were from yesterday so how are we to know if they really did change today. The only thing that we are sure of is that the option we really want – to speak with a human being – isn’t one of the options! Never is. We’re certain that it used to be. We’re pretty sure the last choice was always, “Otherwise, please press zero or hold on for an operator.” That one used to get you to a human. It said so right in the description – hold on for an operator. Now it’s code for “Press zero and we’ll hang up on you.” And there used to be one that said, “If you are calling from a rotary phone, please hold on.” That got you a real person also. Did you ever hold on even though you were calling from a push button phone? They couldn’t tell. Could they?
We think we know what the problem is. There are too many choices. People are probably clogging up customer service lines with complaints about that company’s automated line saying there wasn’t a choice for their problem when there might have been. But because there are menus within menus within still other menus, sometimes finding the right choice isn’t a reasonable option. So we’re proposing our own universal auto-attendant menu that any company can use.
–Thank you for calling the First National Insurance Company of Discount Ticket Sellers and Drug Store
–If you want to check a balance, make a payment, transfer funds, request a quote, refill a prescription, get our mailing address, get our e-mail address, access your most recent statement, access older statements, buy a travel mug with our logo on it, order tickets for a sporting event, concert, live theater event, movie, ballet, upcoming auto, home, garden, flower, RV or boat show, commend an employee, or file a complaint, hang up and go to our web-site and take care of business there. If you’re willing to do it by phone you’ll do fine with it on-line. With the proliferation of tablets, mobile sites and apps, you don’t even need a real computer to take care of business on line. You can stay put on your couch, access our site during the commercial, do whatever you want to do, and never miss any of your show. If you don’t have a tablet you can use a smart phone but the screen is a little small. Don’t complain to us if you hit a wrong virtual button on a cell phone screen. Now really, we’re well into the twenty-first century and you don’t have a tablet? Next you’ll claim to still have a rotary phone.
–All other callers please hold on and listen to our commercial for easy to use personal tablets.
There you have it. It has only two choices and it even works with rotary phones. And it’s guaranteed not to need changing. Ever. Or until somebody invents something more convenient than cell phones or personal tablets.
Now that’s what we think. Really. How ‘bout you.
He of We should have taken heed of his computer. The e-mail header said, “This message look suspicious to our filters. Do you want to open it?” He thought he’d take a chance. After all, the message was from the local blood bank. The subject was Happy Birthday and it was his birthday. How suspicious can it be?
Both of We have long been donators of blood. It’s almost painless, fairly quick, you get cookies and juice when you’re done, and most of the time the blood bank has some cool premium just for raising, or dropping a pint with them. So a couple times a year we find our way to a blood drive and do the right thing.
He should have taken heed. Lately we have been going round with our local blood bank. All of a sudden instead of impersonal post-cards touting specific blood drives that we can read, study, or throw away, the blood bank has taken to impersonal phone calls to cajole those with intact veins to high-tail it to the nearest donation center and start bleeding. Lately these calls have been coming every day. Multiple times a day. So many multiple times that they managed to make She of We call them damn vampires and He of We called them blood sucking blood suckers. On the same day. From different telephones. That’s when we confirmed that Each of We has the same tolerance for annoying telephone solicitations even when the solicitor isn’t trying to sell something.
He didn’t take heed. He opened the message and read on.
On your special day we wish you a bright and happy birthday. If you recently donated blood, or have scheduled an appointment to donate blood, please accept our thanks on behalf of the area patients whose lives you touched. If you have recently been told by our blood center, or another blood center, that you are ineligible to donate then please disregard this message.
Even the Happy Birthday part? Gee these guys are tough. You’d think a blood sucking vampire would have a heart. Where else do you drive the stake?
Now, that’s what we think. Really. How ‘bout you?
The greatest invention of the nineteenth century might well have been the telephone. From nothing when the first commercial line was strung in 1877 to 48,000 subscribers some ten years later, the telephone may have had the greatest initial impact on American households alongside the regular provision of electricity.
Some one hundred years later the telephone really hadn’t changed much. Commercial wireless handsets were becoming more popular in the home and telephone calls no longer meant being tied to the boxes with the dials or buttons where it hung on walls or perched on tables. Freedom to walk around the house came with only the restriction not to wander too far from the base unit. It could have be then that telephones started taking on a more positive role among our families.
The phone had always been more positive than negative. It allowed us to speak with relatives who lived across town, state, and country. It allowed us to check on our homework answers. It allowed us to check on friends not feeling well and family who just added another member to the family. But there were still specific reasons to use the telephone.
Although relatively economical to maintain local service, local usually meant very local. Long distance and metropolitan services could be quite expensive. And phone calls were still often an intrusion into our lives. They usually came while we were eating, watching TV, playing a board game with our parents and siblings, or out back tossing baseballs, footballs, falling off sleds or pulling weeds depending on the season. Other than when we were pulling weeds, most of the time the calls came when we really didn’t want to be interrupted.
Although it might have been more intrusion than necessity, the advances made in the telephone were remarkable. The twentieth century saw direct dialing, multiple extensions at a single number rather than multiple households on a single line, picture phone, push buttons, memory dialing, built in answering machines, and the first truly portable communication devices – the mobile phone. Yes, the greatest invention of the twentieth century might well have been the telephone.
Now another thirty years have gone by and we all have a phone attached to our hips or in special pockets in our purses. We no longer look at the phone as a service or a utility as much as we look at it as an essential that we’d not leave the house without. We’ve both done it. Before we leave the house we do our ritual check – wallet, keys, watch, and phone.
We don’t just talk on our phones, we send messages by voice, text, e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook. We play games on them and with them. We watch short clip videos on YouTube and streaming videos of live sporting events. We flip a switch and some satellite finds us and we get turn by turn directions from them. We maintain our contacts so seamlessly that if someone asks for a phone number for someone we call or text many times a day, we have to look it up. We don’t know it because we never “dial” it. We speak the person’s name into the microphone or tap the person’s picture on the screen to be connected. We no longer have to clip coupons or write shopping lists. It’s literally at our fingertips. We aren’t sure but it seems very much like Star Trek. But if we aren’t sure it’s ok because we can search for and watch episodes of vintage television on our anything by vintage telephones.
Quite an accomplishment for an instrument that at the turn of the century was still fairly impressive to see and use. When even as portable a phone as it was, it was really just a portable phone. And in less than a decade it has become as ubiquitous as flies at a picnic. And as diverse as being able to be the instrument used to look up insect repellant for back yards. Even though we’re only a little more than a tenth of the way through, the greatest invention of the twenty-first century might well will be the telephone.
Now, that’s what we think. Really. How ‘bout you?