Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Yesterday afternoon, I had to contact A. T. & T. about our business phone lines. Rather than being given choices and punching a number on the phone to generate my answer, I instead had to vocalize my responses. I always feel ridiculous when I do this - - I find that I have to really enunciate my words as well as speak in raised voice….otherwise it will say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand….let’s try again.”

Yesterday was no different. Bound and determined that I would not spend any more time than absolutely necessary stuck on the phone call, I sighed and played its little “I don’t understand you” game. The next time it asked the question, “Do you have a business account with us?” I loudly responded, “YYYYEEESSSSS.” One of my co-workers passing by my office door shot me a quizzical look that likely translated to “I think you’ve finally lost it.” He, of course, had no way of knowing that I was not dealing with a deaf and dim business associate, but rather with a hearing-impaired perfectionist computer. From what he could hear on my end of the conversation, it went something like this:







And so on. After being led through this absurdly long series of prompts, I was ultimately placed in a waiting cue to speak to a real-live human being. The system informed me that my wait would be at least ten minutes. I put the phone on speaker and worked on some other things at my desk while I listened to some snazzy muzak that was interrupted about every thirty seconds by a computerized voice that thanked me for waiting and reminded me that my call would be answered in the order that it was received.

After waiting on hold for about fifteen minutes, I began to fret that one of the following two things would happen - - I was afraid that either:

A. The moment my call got picked up by a real-live person, he/she would do something to disconnect me and then I would have to start all over again.


B. that I would get that guy/gal that you can’t understand….the one who speaks such heavily accented English that you struggle just to piece together a few words.

Scenario B happened to me a few weeks ago when I had to call about an internet order I had placed to Snapfish for pictures. The man at the call center (that I can only assume must’ve have been located in the middle of India) could scarcely patch together three words of discernible English….and this was after waiting fifteen minutes to speak to a person. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I need to speak with someone about a recent order I placed.

Him: dfjiwe order number f09di8sd foisd sdfjsdids provide dsfji0adgkoa?

Me: Did you just ask me to give you the order number?

Him: fsjio yis sdfj.

Me: OK - If you just asked me for my order number, it’s 3562945.

Him: cmripbvf problem msd fioa mscdkol bmdi help?

Me: I’m sorry, could you repeat that?


Me: I don’t understand what you’re saying.

Him: sfjioer order sdfmi sdfio this fjsido?

Me: (sigh)

This phone call that should have lasted about three minutes took close to twenty because he had to repeat himself so many times. After I disconnected from the phone call, I was still unsure as to whether we had resolved the situation or not. (I did get the proper replacement order soon after, so apparently we did manage to hash out an understanding. I was dreading having to call back again, so thank goodness for that miracle.)

I wonder if companies even care that when they create foreign call centers staffed by barely-English speaking representatives to handle their problems, it makes me as a consumer not want to use their services anymore. Perhaps the amount of money they save in not having the call center staffed by people who speak perceptible English outweighs the amount of money they lose in customers who take their business elsewhere. I don’t know.

It turns out that neither of my fears were realized in the case of the A. T. & T. business call yesterday. After an almost 25 minute wait, the customer service representative came on the phone speaking pitch-perfect English. I almost wept with joy. He was polite and knowledgeable and did a great job handling my account. I wasn’t thrilled about the wait time or the yelling in a carefully enunciated voice at the beginning of the call, but at least I could understand every word that this guy said to me. And, when I hung up the phone, I was fairly confident that my issues had been resolved.

We take what we can get, don’t we?

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