No one – and I mean no one – likes getting on the phone and trying to talk to a company. I don’t care who you are or what you do in your private time, no one finds this fun. It doesn’t matter what kind of company it is either, but there’s a special frustration, a rarefied vexation of astounding proportions, that arises when you’re attempting to make telephonic contact with a service provider.
Even the providers themselves hate talking to people on the phone, or so I must surmise by the ridiculous lengths they go to not ever have to speak to you. Off-shoring aside – at least you get to speak to a human – the current popularity of voice-activated, self-service systems boggles the mind. It’s hard to explain why, but having to speak in short sentences while talking to a virtual call centre worker with an infuriatingly reasonable tone, despite their inability to actually understand a single bloody word you said or help you in any way at all, could probably be adopted by the US Army as an enhanced interrogation technique.
(As a brief aside, why is it always the providers of telephonic services that manage to make getting on the phone to them so hellacious? Bloody-minded whimsy? Over-developed sense of the absurd? A case of the cobbler’s children going to school bare-foot? Who knows.)
This is why I like my ISP: I can do everything via the website. And I mean everything. Update billing details? Check. Check my monthly usage? Check. Even – and here’s the best part – change my plan. It’s all there, laid out in a perfectly comprehensible way: what plan I’m on, what I could change to and an explicit detailing of any charges I might incur if I do so. In the 7 or so years I’ve been with them, I’ve never needed to pick up the phone to them. Ever. I wasn’t actually going to name them in the interests of fairness, but while writing this I’ve been so overcome by a wave of good feelings I’ll happily go on record saying “thank you, TPG – you’re a godsend”. YMMV.
Of course my mobile carrier... well that’s a completely different story. Once I’ve negotiated its website and logged in to the improbably slow-loading “my account” section, well... assuming I want to see a bill and then pay said bill, we’re fine with that. But what if I want to compare my current call and data plan to anything else available? What if I want to see if I can get a phone upgrade and how much that might cost? Add another service to my existing account, such as a 3G dongle or something similar? If I can do any of those, then I’ve certainly not discovered how. Maybe it’s my failing – maybe all those options are already available online and I’m just whistling Dixie here. But if they are, it’s about as clear as mud in a beer bottle.
Look, I get it – no one likes talking on the phone anymore. Heck, you might as well take out the mic and speaker from every handset, because we’d all prefer to spend 20 minutes texting back and forth than have a conversation that lasts 15 seconds and conveys all the same info. We’ll email, or instant chat, or send photos of hand-written notes before we actually dial anyone. I mean, it’s not even a dial anymore. But seriously, for any provider out there – make your self-service phone system as dense and as impenetrable as you like. Require people to speak Farsi with Welsh accent just to be understood if it takes your fancy. Demand they press keys that don’t even exist on a telephone keypad if they want to continue – I don’t care. But make sure we can actually head online and do what we need, please? Make it easy for us and we’ll leave you alone. That’s not too much to ask, surely...
Nic Healey gets his rant on every Monday, at PC Authority