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Thank you Mr Bludger - your call is important to us – to hold the line, press five


If Bill Gates communicated with his wife the way his company deals with its customers, it’s little wonder he’s headed for the divorce courts, writes Michael Blucher

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“Welcome to Telstra. In just a few words, please tell us the reason for your call… you can say things like “pay my bill” or “set up direct debit” or “technical support”.

Yes, isn’t dealing with our crack national service providers in this day and age a joyous experience?

Just typing the words, recounting my most recent two hours on hold, is enough to send me into a cold sweat.

A suggestion. Why, up front, don’t they include some more relevant and realistic options, like “If you have the urge to stab somebody, press three,” or “to be cut off mid call, press five…”

At least they’d be demonstrating a heightened level of empathy.

I feel a little churlish, banging on about such first-world problems when all around us, the misery and chaos of COVID continues unabated.

But folks, we’re in this together. The scourge of call centres, eating away at the quality of our very existence, is real. And it’s only going to get worse, as our major corporations, in pursuit of “efficiency”, explore new and inventive ways of wasting our time and incurring our wrath.

Last week, for reasons far too complicated to explain, I copped the quinella – I had to deal with Telstra and Microsoft.

And you think the NRL refs had a bad week?

I’d never before had the delight of ringing Microsoft. Wow – that mob makes our national carrier look like Sotherbys. Perhaps some fallout from Bill’s recent troubles at home.

I found myself bounced from one distant off-shore technical support “executive” to the next, each asking you to painstakingly spell your name using the phonetic alphabet…. B for Bravo, L for Lima, U for Unicorn … then the same with your email address. And then your new 48-digit product key, because the last one you bought, mysteriously expired….

“Thank you, Mr Bludger, one moment please…I will put you through to technical support …”

“Whoa … hang on, I thought you were technical support …”

And then around we go again.

“Good afternoon, my name is Amal, please start by spelling your name using the phonetic alphabet… “

B for Bludger, L for Livid, U for You-Can’t-Believe-The-Crap-I’m-putting-up-with….

Beep. Beep Beep.

Look, we get it. Monstrous business, monstrous complexity – arms, divisions, departments spread out across the globe, an unholy maze of mildly inter-connected entities, scrambling to avoid stuff falling through the cracks.

It’s not that the right arm doesn’t know what the left arm is doing, it’s more a case of the right arm not knowing there is a left arm.

Sadly, in the firing line, are these poor bastards, underpaid, overworked, ill-equipped to solve problems that are not of their own making.

I for one would be more tolerant if I wasn’t being goaded by the BS that you have to listen to for 45 minutes while you’re on hold.

“We’re experiencing unusually high demand for assistance at the moment, but your call is important to us, please hold the line, and we’ll be with your shortly”.

Why don’t they just be honest? “Listen, to reduce costs, we’re trying to drive all traffic on line – to stop people ringing. We’ve only three staff left in our call centre and they’re 6000km away, currently being yelled at by other disgruntled customers.

“You’re going to be waiting ages, so you’d be far better off hanging up, logging on, and trying to solve the problem yourself… Ok? Thanks for calling Microsoft … click.

I, for one would respect their honesty … there’s not enough of it in corporate land in the 21st century.

The final insult these days is the ubiquitous “how did we go” email that lands in your inbox, no more than 11 minutes after you’ve been cut you off.

Tell us about your experience with Microsoft. How did we go? Please take a short survey to provide feedback on your customer service experience….”

You know … perhaps best I don’t. Not right now.

Even when you drop in at Liquorland on the way home to pick up a bottle of wine, to scull to help you forget about your experience with Microsoft … there’s another email.

“Thank you for shopping at Liquorland, please tell us about your in-store experience …”

Well… there wasn’t one, really. I picked up a bottle of wine, paid for it, and walked out. Rough day. Been on the phone with Microsoft. What else would you like to know?

Yes, the commercial world’s trending in a wonderful direction.

The irony is companies around the world, collectively are spending billions of dollars on leadership training for their key executives, all in pursuit of the edge – that little something special that’s going to distance them from their competitors.

And this is what it’s producing – a global drive for cost efficiency, based on the removal of all unnecessary human interaction.

Corporations are obviously of the view that by following up with a computer-generated email (after forcing people to “speak” with a computer) that they’re ingeniously snuggling up close their customers.

If you think it’s bulsh*t, press 1, if you have the urge to stab somebody, press 3 … or hold the line to talk to somebody who really doesn’t care.


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