It’s so easy to check out of the mega-store we have in town. You can go to the line that is self-checkout and scan your own items. During the transaction the computer voice will tell you what to do next as in “place the item in the bag”, and when to put your money or card into the machine. When I am done it actually kicks out the change to me and thanks me in it’s computer animated voice. I realize that there are many people who love this non personal way of doing business, but I am not one of them. I like to actually have a person to talk to in the checkout line. I like to make small talk about how their day is going or items I am buying. I like to hand my cash or scan my card to or in front of a real person. I like having my change counted back to me, which by the way is another lost art. I like to see a smile on the cashiers face when they tell me to have a nice day! Of course I don’t always get what I like. There are times that the line is so long and slow that walking through the impersonal machine line is the quickest way.
I suppose the hundreds of companies that use the impersonal computer generated answering devices to answer their phones think they are providing good service also. I’m sure that they think that people don’t mind listening to a machine if it can get the job done. I for one find it very annoying. First of all the machine wants me to type into the phone key pad my account number or phone number. It seems to me that the computer wants to know everything about me and yet the company cares so little that they want to filter me into a standard answer to get me off of the phone. Too many times I have got trapped in the computer maze. Somehow by not clicking the right button I get whisked away into a different program altogether. It is like getting on a plane and thinking you are going to one destination only to be hijacked to another.
What about the times that the choice as to why I am calling are not stated? It may give me four options and none of them are really what I want. Then to add insult to injury it tries to hurry me along. “I did not hear a response”, it will say to me in a helpful voice. The thing may sound helpful, but it is clearly not meeting my needs. It clearly is trying to push me into the easy out. The computers job is to get me off of the phone without directly talking to anyone. Since the companies feel that time is money and the human element uses more time, they try to eleminate the personal, time consuming touch.
Somewhere back there I have learned that the computer has the real people way back in the background. It’s almost like the old Wizard of Oz thing where I am not supposed to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. I know he is back there and of course I want to talk to him. The trick is to trick the computer into letting me talk to a real person. As long as I am pushing the phone buttons after every question, I find myself falling into the stand pat answer world the computer is pushing me into. Sometimes I have found that the best way to get someone on the line is to not push any buttons on the phone keypad or utter a single word. However I have also found at times that this little trick of acting dumb has had the computer hang up on me because I’m not cooperating.
A couple of days ago we had a big storm come through our section of town. It was one of the oddest storms I have ever seen. I would say it lasted at most 15 minutes. The fifteen minutes though was very intense with high winds, thunder, lightening, and hail. When the storm was over we discovered a big tree branch was down in the back yard. It actually came down right around our Direct TV dish and luckily we haven’t had any problems with it. The front yard had a big tree branch down also. It would have damaged my sons car except luckily he was away. My neighbor across the street had a giant tree branch come down and it had damaged his fence. All around our area we have seen damages. This was not a tornado and yet the neighbor around the block had a whole large tree totally uprooted! I have never seen anything quite like it. Our power flickered but stayed on. The landline telephone went completely dead.
The next morning I discovered what to me seemed to be the problem. A branch was stuck on the wire down by the road. I assumed that it was the telephone wire. Calling the phone company I suddenly found myself trapped in the computer answering machine maze. My son took the phone from me after awhile and said “Agent”, thinking that would get someone on the line. Unfortunately it didn’t and he started pushing bottons. Luckily he was able to untangle me from the maze and a customer service rep came on the phone. It was so nice to be actually talking to a live person. So many times you get to this point and the computer comes back with the message “all of our customer service agents are busy with other calls”. “Leave a message or wait for the next available agent”. This case was different because the lady was on the line ready to help. I explained to her that I think I knew why our phone was out of service and I told her about the branch on the wire. She said that she would put the report in. She told me they could fix the wire but they could not remove any branches on it. She then stated very emphatically, “if the problem is on the outside there will be no charge, however if it is on the inside you will be billed. Later that night the phone came back on and someone removed the branch after I called the power company. The only option that was close to my problem on the power companies computer generated answering machine was option #1 a downed wire. That seemed to immediately get a customer service representative on the phone as that problem was more of an emergency. When I mentioned that the wire wasn’t down the sense of urgency faded. The representative couldn’t promise when the branch would be removed. “Honestly”, she said, “it may take two or three days”. Luckily for us her two or three days was just a few hours.
The next morning the phone was out again. Of course this time my only option was to punch our phone number in and report the trouble via the phone pad. A few hours later we found that the phone was working again. Then we received a phone call from the phone company. It was a service man who said that he would be by in about twenty minutes. I told him the phone was working again, but he wanted to test the line out. He showed up and we talked for a little while about the problem. It seems that I was completely mistaken. The phone line actually runs underground. The branch was on the power line only. His explanation was a simple one and made sense. Somewhere about three miles from my house is the main outlet for our area. With the power outage a generator backup was used. My phone was out while the generator was hooked up originally and it was out when the power came back and they hooked my phone line back to the main power again. He gave me his number in case anything else came up but he was almost positive that the problem was as he stated.
Talking to this expert confirmed my feelings again of how much I liked personal service! I do like to feel important enough to have things explained to me. I do like the feeling that someone actually cares and is there to help. It was nice to have someone explain some of the things I didn’t understand, making me feel wiser and important, while using some old time customer service that companies are forgetting these days!
Years ago the pastor of the church I was attending said something that I have never forgotten. “On any given Sunday there are thousands of church services going on at the same time and in each one people are praying at the same time. Amazingly God can hear every one of those prayers, now that is a pretty big God”! I’m reminded that God is always there through the good times and bad. When the storms of life hit us isn’t it nice that we are not put through a computer maze when we call God for assistance? Isn’t it wonderful that our “small problems” aren’t deflected while God is in the background listening to only the giant problems? Aren’t you glad that because God is helping someone else at the present time, we don’t have to wait for the next available representative? Companies these days get so big that they can’t handle individual needs without using the non-caring means of computer technology. Isn’t it nice to know that your God and mine is so big that he can hear and meet every need individually and at the same time? These are comforting thoughts when the storms of life have damaged our world!