This boomer laments the death of customer service

Have the technological changes that we baby boomers have witnessed in the decades of our lives actually made these lives easier or harder? If you ask Michael Doble of Woodbridge, Virginia, the answer is obvious, and maybe best illustrated by the telephone. Michael laments the death of customer service in, “Your Call is Not Important to Us:”

Technology has improved our lives in many ways. In my lifetime as a baby boomer, we’ve gone from rotary dial phones on party lines to cell phones, from vinyl records to digital music, from gas power to electric cars, and a host of other advancements.

But some technology has set us back, not pushed us ahead.

Michael Doble… waiting not-so-patiently.

Exhibit A is the obstacle course we have to endure in Interactive Voice Recognition systems, or IVR. In layman’s terms, that is the world you enter whenever you call a bank, a doctor, a store, or any other organization, and have to deal with a seemingly endless series of prompts before ever speaking with a human being… if you’re lucky.

For example, it recently took my wife days to get through to a doctor’s office. She had already made an appointment online but was instructed by email (which she couldn’t respond to) to call the office to confirm. She called and dutifully followed the prompts, and then was put in “the queue.” After ten minutes she was pushed from the queue to a voicemail box which told her “Sorry, this mailbox is full,” so the system thanked her for calling, and hung up!

Been there, done that?

And how about this: Another doctor’s office put her in an endless circle of prompts leading her right back to the original prompts and she finally gave up.

I recently had a question for Medicare. I dialed the number and the electronic voice said the wait time was 58 minutes. I suppose I can forgive the government for its lack of responsiveness and the impersonal bureaucracies that we have to deal with to get services.

Sometimes… we are just put on “terminal hold.”

But at other organizations that claim that their customers come first, we actually come in dead last. If they really meant it when they told us “Your call is really important to us,” we wouldn’t be forced to talk to a not-so-smart electronic system. It is insulting to hear over and over again how important our call is to them when we spend an hour on hold listening to that message and the horrible recorded music in-between.

Why is this our reality? Because to save a few bucks, businesses and other organizations outsource their customer contact to these disembodied electronic voice systems. I think the organizations most wedded to IVR are those that don’t really need us. They already have enough patients or customers and don’t care if we ever get through. Even so, I contend that what they save in costs they lose in damage to their reputation for saying one thing (you are important) and doing another (making it so difficult to talk to a human being that you give up).

So, until customers revolt, we will all, like sheep, be herded into the queue and hope that the IVR gods smile on us enough that we actually get to speak to someone who can help us.

Mike’s novel about Washington DC is “On the Hot Seat.”


  1. Now that hits the nail on the head. We used to call that “VMH” for Voice Mail H***. My wife would start punching “0” within about 5 seconds of listening to the elevator music. And the early versions that were programmed poorly and just took you in a circle were the worst.

  2. And then you’re asked to take a “short survey” at the end. If you’re lucky enough to get through in a reasonable time, you might have a helpful person on the other end. But when the survey comes up, there’s no way to comment on the “overall service” without negatively impacting the rep who helped you. They NEVER ask about the service before you reach the rep. Grrrrrrr.

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