Virtual Insanity

Wow.  I just had a bizarre “near” conversation with my bank that suddenly made me realize … we’ve become way too high-tech as a society.  I say “near” conversation because I’m not 100% sure there was anyone on the other end of it.

Allow me to backtrack.  Back in the summer, I ran out of checks and decided to reorder online rather than by calling the 800 number, which I’ve done since roughly 1992.  I know!  Call me old school.  The bank has been e-mailing me for 26 months straight, begging me to go paperless.  I figured if I can’t go green, I could at least be low-maintenance when it comes to reordering checks.  Apparently, I should have stuck to what I know, because two weeks ago, it finally dawned on me that the checks were not in the mail.

I went to my bank’s website to find a number I could call, but instead … got a litany of questions.  Remember back in the old days when the magic words “contact us” on a website would take you directly to a phone number?  Well, those days over.  When I go there now, I get this:

What are you contacting us about?”

Seriously?  Am I being interrogated here?  What’s my crime?  I simply want to call and ask a question.

The site proceeds to give you a drop-down menu with a dozen different options … none of which actually deals with reordering checks.  I click on the section titled “checking/savings” in hopes of getting a phone number, which I do.  Unfortunately, that number was manned by an automated drone that proceeded to ask me a dozen more questions.

Are you calling about an existing account? Yes
Has your debit card been lost or stolen? No
Are you calling to change your online pass code? No
Please tell us in a few words why you’re calling, so we can better assist you? I’m calling to TALK TO SOMEONE.  Can you help me with that?

As I’m arguing with the automated voice, I happened to notice a new feature in the right hand corner of the bank’s website, offering me an opportunity to “request an online chat”.  The sign went on to say that a representative was “waiting on me now.”  This was music to my ears.  As much as I loathe to text, I couldn’t resist the instant gratification of interacting with what I thought would be a live human being.  Now … I’m not so sure it was.  This is a verbatim of our conversation”

Stuart: Hello… and thank you for being a valued customer.  My name is Stuart.  How may I assist you today?
Me: Hey Stuart.  I ordered some checks online several weeks ago, and I just wanted to check the status on those since I haven’t received them.
Stuart: I absolutely understand your concern regarding the check order.
Me: Oh, well I’m not overly concerned, really.  I just wanted to make sure the order didn’t get lost.
Stuart: Of course!  I’ll be happy to assist you.
Me: Ah… thanks.

(Stuart’s politeness was disarming.)

Stuart: I see that you placed last order on 07/26/09 for this account.  After that, there is no check order placed.
Me: Oh, well then I must have done something wrong because I just recently reordered online.  Can I just order them through you?
Stuart: You can order the checks online.
Stuart: I will be more than happy to provide you steps.
Me: Um, well that’s how you and I got to know each other … remember?  I ordered them online, and they never came.
Stuart: Of course!  I can see why this would upset you.
Me: No, I’m not upset.  I just need… SOME CHECKS!!!!!

And so it went.  I eventually pried a number out of young Stuart for the reorder hotline, but let me tell you … it was no small task.  I think the authorities may have had an easier time getting Nixon to confess to Watergate.

I wish I could say this is limited to the banking industry, but I just got two messages on my voicemail this week from robots.  One was asking me for a vote, and the other was my doctor’s office.  When the robot from the doctor’s office didn’t get me at home, she started hounding me at work.  I have to admit … this was a new one.  She recapped the entire 24-hour cancellation policy, and then made me press “1” if I understood.  I had fully intended to go to the appointment, but suddenly I felt nervous.  Pressing that “1” was beginning to feel like a big commitment.  Was I SURE I could make it on Thursday?  I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe as it is.  This just seemed like a lot coming down on me all at once.  With shaky fingers, I pressed the “1” and immediately hung up.

The more I think about it, almost all of my days are usurped anymore having fake conversations with people either by text, e-mail or Facebook.  Friend or foe … it doesn’t matter.  They’re lighting me up.  On Monday, I did a story that upset people in a particular community.  Back in the old days, they’d call me up, and we’d have a healthy dialogue about the story.  Not anymore.  The way of the world now is to launch an organized e-mail campaign filled with lines like, “put up, or shut up!”

I know this is wrong, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder who’s sitting on the other end of an e-mail like that one.  It’s not fair, when you think about it.  People can see me, but I can’t see them.  I think I’m going to make it a policy not to respond unless they attach a photo.  Then I’ll at least feel like we’re having a real conversation.  Then there’s this question: How safe is it to engage a nameless, faceless person?  Do I address their concerns, or just run to my car at night hoping they don’t come down here with a 2 x 4 and beat me senseless?

The point I’m trying to make is this:  Let’s stop typing and start talking again!

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3 Responses

  1. From now on when you get a computer voice just start pressing the “0” key on your phone and in most cases you get a real “person” on the phone. However, they are usually so programed that they are unable or unwilling or both to get a phone number that is attached to a live human being that is not living in India or some other foreign land that has english as their 3rd or 4th language. When folks from India call me for info on my insureds, I do not accept their call and I tell them to have an American call me so I can understand them. I FEEL your Pain.

  2. Jennifer,
    I had to comment on this blog. I was literally laughing out loud. I work for a doctor’s office and was recently on a call to an insurance company. I had a two minute conversation with a person (or so I thought) until I realized that the answers were too “scripted” to be coming from a real person. I was ready to scream. I was also embarrassed that it had taken me two minutes to figure it out. Love your blog. Keep up the good work.
    Jennifer

  3. I usually end up in a screaming match with the automated person at AT&T! I know they can’t hear me but OMG it feels good to yell!!

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