People today talk nostalgically about a time when you always dealt with human beings on the phone and not computers. We believe that humans are responsive to our specific questions and take an interest in our unique situation. Therefore they can give you individualized help and service, which we assume is superior.
I’m not sure if that idealized past ever really existed or if we have collectively re-imagined this happy time in our history. I know that disembodied voices on the phone attached to living people have generously and graciously helped me negotiate bureaucratic nightmares in bygone days.
Today, I don’t know whether to be happy or scared when I hear a human voice on the other end of the phone. At least with a recording, you can still hope that when you finally find a real person to talk to, they will straighten everything out. Here is the incident that triggered this rant.
My husband’s father died and my husband wanted to cancel his deceased father’s car insurance. He talked to a lady and told her that he wanted to cancel the policy because his father had passed away. The woman said she couldn’t do that. When my husband asked why, she said that you should never cancel a car policy because if his father ever drove his car again without the insurance, he would be fined. My husband patiently explained that there was no way his father would be driving again.
“How can you be sure?” the insurance lady inquired.
“Because he is dead.” My husband replied, trying not to yell. That should have ended the conversation with a win for my husband.
The phone lady’s response was Kafkaesque. “Oh!” she said. “Then I’ll have to talk to my supervisor.”
People on the other end of corporate or bureaucratic phone lines today do not seem to have the same great track record that we fondly remember. Maybe people don’t care as much about other people unless they are communicating with them via Twitter or Facebook. Maybe people don’t take pride in their jobs as much these days. Maybe people just aren’t as smart or knowledgeable as they used to be.
Whatever the reason, I used to automatically ask for a representative to help me when I had to call an institution of any kind. Now I give the computer lady a shot and if that fails, then I resort to a human. Artificial intelligence might not be that bad after all, if it is actually intelligent.
But one good thing did come out of the discussion with the car insurance lady. It gave Tom and I the idea for a piece for our audio theater group VoiceScapes Audio Theater. It’s about a guy calling the cable company to cancel his dead father’s cable account. It’s called “Till Death Do Us Not Part.” It’s very funny. And very true.