Tuesday, February 28, 2006

If I Wanted to Talk to a Computer, I'd Have Rung My Laptop

The New York Times ran an interesting article yesterday about the deplorable lack of service we routinely encounter when trying to get in touch with a company representative. I've been there too often to count -- stuck in Limbo while an automated, passionless, brainless voice assures me that "Your call is important to us," or tells me, "You may speak to me as to a real person." Neither of which ever appears to be true.

I've traversed the bowels of an insurance company's phone system, trying to find a representative who could help me make heads or tails of my statement (Which, incidentally, turned out to be comprised of completely unsubstantiated charges made after the company had sent me a note telling me I was no longer one of their clients... Hence my confusion.).

I've also been known to bellow "A REAL PERSON! A REAL PERSON! I WANT TO TALK TO A REAL PERSON!!" at the incompetent robo-drone AT&T employs to keep paying customers away from their employees.

The article details scenarios much like these -- ones with which we're all too familiar. Then it talks about gethuman.com . In case you're unfamiliar with this breath of fresh air wafting into the miasmic "service industry," here's what gethuman has to say about itself:

The gethuman™ movement was started by Paul English to change the face of customer service in the US. The information on the gethuman.com website will always be here for free. If you want to thank me for managing this site, just try Kayak.com the next time you are looking to travel (I'm the CTO/cofounder there). Or better, consider a donation to Partners in Health, a group of amazing people who are changing world health by giving preferential treatment to the poor. Paul also maintains a blog at paulenglish.com where he writes about technology and other random topics.

One of the coolest parts of gethuman is the site that posts telephone "cheats" for various major corporations, telling you how to talk to a human. Very cool.

I always feel that if I'm going to rant about a shortcoming, I should rave when that shortcoming is missing. So, while I'm always peeved to hear that Gawdawful computer voice telling me that "your call will be answered in the order it was received," I'm also weirdly gratified if I call a company and never get the voice. That's what happens when I call Wolverine Water Systems. I love dealing with them. We bought a (terribly expensive) water treatment system from them the year we bought our house. The system includes a reverse osmosis filtration system for our drinking water -- and for our fish tanks. Every so often, the filters need changing. So I have to call and order new ones.

When I call, a human immediately answers the phone. I don't even have to press a number for a particular language. They easily access our account (our original purchase was over 15 years ago!). They know our mailing address. They tell us what the total cost will be (always reasonable). They tell us that it will ship out via UPS ground delivery that same day. And we get what we need. No hassle. No fuss. No annoying automated computer.

The sad thing is that this kind of service is cause for celebration. Unemployment is high. People are routinely undervalued and downsized. Honestly -- if I had the choice of talking to a computer about a problem / question / concern or complaint, or switching companies in order to speak with a human, I'd make the switch in a heartbeat. I doubt that I'm alone...