Accursed Menus

Here’s a rant after my own heart:

I was puzzled, so I checked the website and got nowhere. The password I’d used for the account was suddenly not accepted.
So I phoned the number on the website. And got nowhere. This time the problem seemed to be my PIN.
Or maybe my account number. Or maybe my customer ID. Or my PCN number. Whatever that was. The recorded message didn’t really care. I gave up.
I had become the innocent victim of the new digital age in which the algorithm reigns supreme.
There was a time when a human being with a problem talked to another human being who helped to get it sorted. Those days are gone.
The lives of big companies and government officials are made so much easier if we customers or clients can be kept at arm’s length.

The online experience is bad enough — but when you dare to call the “Customer Care” (ha!) telephone number, that’s really when the SHTF.

A combination of the two above means that I will be changing my Medicare supplemental insurer, because it seems to be the only way I can punish these assholes for their bovine indifference to my situation.

I’ll let Humphrys finish this rant:

Increasingly, we are being deprived of even a semblance of what we once thought of as customer service.
We are left talking to a computer screen behind which sits not another human being, but an algorithm. Or a recorded telephone announcement that may or may not respond to our pleas for help.
It’s as though any human compassion in the relationship between customer and provider has simply disappeared. And that’s very sad.

Or enraging.  Ten guesses which side I’m on.


  1. I’ll go beyond that statement, and say that my phone company, which also supplies my DSL, has an AI that is specifically programmed to get you to hang up. You have to follow the script it is doing, or you get dropped. Once you have wasted your time with the AI, you are put on hold for a 3rd world technician to help you.
    But while you are waiting on hold, every 30 seconds a message comes on saying, “You can go to our website and use our chat for faster help or email us if your problem is not urgent.”
    If I could get onto the web, I wouldn’t be calling you to fix it.

  2. Algorithms are one thing, but for me, what’s worse is a call center in Mumbai or Bangalore or The Philippines. Those folks have less than zero vested interest in helping me solve my problem, and only seem capable of reading from a script. Language / heavy-furrin accent aside, when an issue falls even slightly outside what the script tells the agent what to do, Whammo !! done. At that point I usually ask for a US-located stuporvisor (yes STUPORvisor). Sometimes that helps, sometimes not. We’ve lost.

    1. When my help desk job got shipped to the Sub continent so they could “do the needful”, I had to help the new folks understand our documentation.

      It was written with the view that our tech had at least a basic skill set and could do basic trouble shooting. It had to be re-written as the new company forbid their folks from doing anything except follow a script.

      They could not understand how we could operate with documentation where hitting a decision branch on the trouble shooting flow chart basically meant “make a guess on which branch to follow based on the facts given by the caller and your judgement based on experience”.

      So I do cut the first level support of foreign call centers some slack. They are neither trained nor allowed to do anything but follow a dumbed down script. Moving to an algorithm is the next logical step for companies that feel they need a customer support service but don’t want to be bothered actually providing one..

      1. I’m willing to cut the workers some slack–after all, they’re doing what everyone does when they get the chance–taking a nice well paying (for local values of) indoor sitdown job instead of some dirty, hazardous sketchy job.

        I’m also willing to cut the throats of the bastard middlemen who engineer this crap and the C Suite bastards who know better.

        Look, if you put the help center for some POS consumer electronic device overseas, well, whatever. It’s an entertainment device.

        But like a few others here, I “lost” a job to the new owners of a company offshoring it. This was a job doing operations support *for an insurance company*. Not answering the phones (which would be bad), but supporting certain data operations. The person I was expected to train (and which I did my best) was…substandard. And he was supposedly the best they could find.

        I’ve worked with a lot of Indians (dot) over the years, and like a Americans, some were good, and many were not. But Americans seem to be on a gaussian distribution–few really bad, most ok, some great. Whereas the Indians seem to be a bi-modal distribution. Either great or crap with very little in between. And if they aren’t great, they’re worse than useless.

    2. I would rather deal with Bangalore than Baltimore (Medicare). They are easier to understand and they actually know something.

  3. I keep thinking “Is it so much cheaper for these companies to offshore these calls?” and keep coming up with the same answer: “Yes!” It’s not just the $15 per, it’s the insurance, OSHA, and all the other corners into which we’ve (and Congress and the agencies) painted ourselves; so yes, it is that much cheaper to hire people abroad who have a minimum acquaintance with English and care less about your problem. (Not only that, but there are people here who would try to convince you that it’s your fault that you don’t speak the language used at the other end of the phone.)
    Personally, I don’t see any way out of it.

    1. When my tech support job got moved to Mumabi, the big wigs referred to the process as “Right Shoring”. Apparently I may have ruffled some feathers up the food chain by referring to it as “Cheap Shoring”.

      1. So they basically put you out of a job because you cut into their profit margin and got upset when you called them “cheap”.

        I hope you found a place that respects your efforts better.

        I have.

  4. I dunno… sometimes automation is downright useful. For example, every year when my annual renewal was due, I had to call SiriusXM and threaten to cancel my service in order to be offered their best deal for Satellite Radio/Streaming ($99 vs. $230 per year). I’d wait on hold, talk to an agent, be transferred to the “cancellation agent”, wait on hold some more, and then finally dance around with them until they offered me the discount just to remain a customer. It was an annual tradition that took no less than 30 minutes on the phone.

    When the pandemic hit, they automated it and now it takes 2 minutes. I called, chose the cancel service menu option (that was new), and while I was waiting on hold the computer asked me if I wanted to hear a “special offer” (also new). The computer offered me the $99 rate and billed my credit card on file at the press of a few buttons. Both last year and this year I was off the phone with my discount in less than 2 minutes.

    Definitely an improvement for me.

  5. I’ve installed and maintained these machines for 30 years. It’s not the machines. It’s the people behind them.

    And God forbit you get a ‘human’. “Bovine Indifference” is an epic term for what the live show is.

    I can deal with that. It’s when they act as if they are doing you a favor, at great personal expense, for merely doing their job.

  6. and that gawd awful “music” they play at 120db in the background

    I swear they don’t want your call and they try to wear you out.

  7. I’ll provide some counter-point here…..

    I just got off the phone with a credit card company (who’s initials are A.E.) to replace my card because it’s damaged (I had it in my back pocket and sat on it). Went thru the automated menu for replacing a card, asked for the security code which is worn off so can’t be read. Told the AI I can’t read it, which it (predictably) didn’t understand and two minutes later I was talking to a human being who got me sorted out.

    There’s a reason I’ve had this account since 1987 and will be the last card I part with. Plus earlier this year we paid for half of our new fridge with rewards from this card. There’s plenty to complain about, but this particular company’s customer service has always been stellar. The way they do it should be taught in schools.

    Mark D

  8. I came the conclusion DECADES ago that, in the modern, high-tech, globalized marketplace, businesses don’t want to hear from their customers.

  9. The HOLD buttons on telephones are the single greatest customer control device ever invented. Listening to an endless loop of indistinct, inane, “music”, played with all the scratches and pops an antiquated tape machine can muster, before the next customer service representative returns you to the same loop, again and again, is enough to get even a deaf man to hang up and accept an overpriced, substandard, business contract. I believe that is the intent.

  10. When the global standard of customer service is “IDGAFLOL”, even baseline competence distinguishes an organization as elite.

  11. Sometimes, dealing with Customer “Service” is like writing a Congress-critter about an issue without enclosing the appropriate “processing fee”.

    The big difference is that in an election year, months later, after the critter has voted, you get a form letter that tells you nothing about the critter’s position on the matter.

  12. Had to deal with UPS a couple of weeks ago and they are appallingly bad. There is no phone number where a human being can be reached. The online support was awful and not helpful in the least.

    First they shipped the customer service call centers to Thirdworld-whocares-stan, and hired people who can’t speak clear English. Then algorithm is unhelpful. Speaking with the company who was shipping door parts to me was just as atrocious despite reaching a human being. He was unhelpful as well. These companies do not care about customer service at all.


  13. The result of their indifference to the needs and wants of an actual customer, is that we find substitutes for their product sourced, as much as practical, locally.
    I am perfectly happy depriving them of my money.

  14. A few years ago, I discovered something by pure serendipity. I was trying to reach a human being at one of the major overnight shipping companies whose initials are F. E. I was trying to get an answer about an international shipment and the automated customer service algorithm had no option in the direction I needed to go. I just wanted to connect to an actual person, but there was no option for that either, and everything I tried put me right back to the beginning of the loop. I kept trying. I hit the pound (#) key, I tried the zero (0) key, I tried the star (*). I yelled “agent” and “person” and “human being” into the phone. Gahh! Nothing was working! Finally, in exasperation, I yelled “Son of a bitch!” into the phone.

    “Please hold for the next available agent.”

    An actual human agent came on and managed to help me within a few minutes. But sensing a discovery, I called the support line back again. As soon as the AI loop started again, I yelled “Son of a bitch!” into the phone again.

    “Please hold for the next available agent.”

    “Ahah!” says I. I think I’ve found their secret. I tried it again and it worked every time.

    “Hmmm!”, says I. I wonder if it will work for that other really big shipping company? You know, the one whose initials are U.P.S.? So I called *their* customer help line. As soon as their AI loop started, I yelled “Son of a bitch!” into the phone.

    “Please hold for the next available agent.”

    Yeah, I’m not kidding. It really does work, or at least it did up to the time I retired back in 2019.

  15. Given my proximity to the District of Columbia, I’ve reached the conclusion that we already have become a Third World territory with First World perks available to those willing to pay a premium but with the ubiquity of technology-enhanced “customer service”, I am beginning to think that there is a new definition of the phrase “Fourth World” forming before our very eyes. What else do you call what’s left of a country that has been degraded from a manufacturing economy to a “service” economy when customer service is a a concept as foreign to its inhabitants as the meaning of the word, MERGE, on those diamond-shaped, yellow road signs where the little road runs into the big, fast, busy road thing.

Comments are closed.