I do not think that Alexander Graham Bell could ever have imagined what would become of his invention. What started out as a voice communication between two humans has developed into something quite different: One might even say it has merged in some ungodly way with computers and the internet.
Corporations want to talk to you, to find out what you are thinking, whether of their products or services, or your politics. But they don’t want you to communicate with them—unless to tell them you want to order now. That’s why we all have to go through a diabolically designed automated attendant service which has a computer asking you why you are calling. I find that they frequently omit the option that describes why I am calling them. Sometimes, there is no way to get through to a human.
Most of my incoming calls are tagged as SPAM RISK. That’s because there are firms and charities that want to romance you out of your money. One charity calls me every day: I even recognize the caller’s voice. And this for a “charity” that is not even tax-deductible. I have told him multiple times that I am on a fixed income and no longer contribute to charities. (That’s not exactly entirely true, but it is 100% true for people who try to collect money by making unsolicited phone calls.)
This morning, I received one UNCLASSIFIED call that wanted to ask about my political opinions. I politely informed the caller that I do not discuss politics with strangers because I am suspicious of their motives. That is particularly so as election time approaches. This is a dance I will perform numerous times come midterm elections in November.
It is sad that people have to protect themselves from the telephone. We try to insulate ourselves from callers by using voice mail or by communicating only by texting.
It used to be that American corporations encouraged their customers to call them. But that was way back when. Now, with automated attendant services, the corporations let you talk to their computer—but only if you want to talk about the things about which they want you to talk. And nine times out of ten, those are not the things about which you are calling.
This month, I ran into a nasty bind with a medical lab. My doctor ordered from Question Diagnostics a self-administered test to be sent to me by mail. It never came, but Question Diagnostics e-mailed me to come into their office. Okay, perhaps they were going to hand it to me. So I made an appointment to go in and was asked for my doctor’s order. I told them it was sent from her office by computer. Then a look of comprehension crossed the features of the receptionist: “Oh, I see. Our supplies of that test ran out.” It was suggested that I visit other offices of the lab until I found one that had the test.
Rather than make appointments at multiple offices of the lab, I telephoned the various offices. In none of them was it possible to break through the barrier set up by the automated attendant and speak to a real live human being. Thereupon, I called customer service at the headquarters of Question Diagnostics. Would you believe that the customer service rep duplicated my steps in calling several nearby offices, only to be surprised that I couldn’t find out who had the test available? The rep mentioned that everyone was busy because of Covid-19. (I am willing to bet they’ll be using that excuse for the next five years, whatever happens with the pandemic.)
I made an appointment with the branch in Century City for 11:10 this morning using their Internet appointment software. I was met with a locked door and a sign saying they were gosh-awfully sorry, but the office was closed until November 1. Out of desperation, I returned to my local branch of the lab and, to my delight, found out that the tests had come in. The receptionist handed one to me, and I left with a smile on my face.
Although these corporate automated attendants don’t want to let me through to talk to anyone, many companies have no compunction about using a robocall program to contact me, usually about car repair warranties. Of course, why should I not hang up the moment I detect it’s a robocall?
What gets me is that a company thinks they can sell products and services to the general public without ever getting any direct feedback.