Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 8:25 pm | Fair 66º


Paul Burri: Telephone Games

Those helpful automated customer service numbers often leave the customer trapped in an endless loop.

I’m sure this is not a unique experience but it sure is frustrating. I called a toll-free number to find out the status of a mortgage payment. The 888 number was on a letter I had received from the lender. Of course, I had to go through the usual gymnastics of pressing 1 for English, then punching in my 12-digit loan number, then the last four numbers of my Social Security number and finally my password. After all that, and having to wait on hold for about five minutes, I finally got a real, live person on the line.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri
His first question? What is your loan number? From experience I know it is futile to mention to him that I had just entered it in order to get him on the line. I meekly gave him my loan number. Then he asked me a series of questions, such as property address, name on the account, password and the last four numbers of my Social Security number. After all that, he finally asked how he could help me.

Of course — and you all knew this was coming — he told me he would have to transfer me to another department to answer my question. That meant another three minutes on hold. This time I was connected to a nice woman who asked me for — you guessed it — my loan number, the property address, my Social Security number, etc, etc. After she had all that she informed me that she would have to transfer me to another department that handled these kind of matters. She added that she would tell them she had received all the necessary information and that I was “cleared” for them to talk to me. And as a convenience to me for any future calls, she was going to give me a number I should call the next time a matter like this came up. Then she proceeded to give me the number I had called in the first place.

It took two more departments and two more people for me to get to the one who could answer my questions.

I cannot help wondering who is the information technology “genius” who designs their system so it requires four people — not counting the initial automated computerized voice — at their end to handle one simple customer question.

I’m a member of Toastmasters International, the organization that supports and teaches speechmaking to anyone interested. Each year, among other things, Toastmasters has a tall-tales contest in which we all try to outdo each other in telling the most outrageous tall tale we can think up. The next time I think I’ll tell about the time I called my bank and the call was answered by a live person in the right department who was able to answer my question and handle my call. I’m sure no one will believe it.

Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business but he is a small business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE).

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