Telecomedy by Trevor Plumbly

The Telephone Rings

It was that time of the day: housework done, lunch finished and time to relax a bit, I’d just settled into the armchair when the phone rang. Our phone is one of those portable jobs that you can tote anywhere, even to the loo if you’re so minded. While this feature allows you to talk in peace it does have one major drawback. People, (including me) don’t return it to its resting place; thus, if it rings, a minor panic ensues. I’m one of those folk that still think all phone calls are important. Despite being pretty blind, I still managed to locate it without breakage or injury beyond a bruised shin and feeling rather like a relay race winner clutching the baton, I sank back into the chair in triumph to take the call. A metallic voice informed me that this was an automated message to let me know that the automatic payment for my account could not be processed but if I dialled 128 all would be resolved.

Machine Voices

Full of hope, I dialled the magic number, only to be greeted by another machine that asked a series of questions obviously designed to isolate me from human contact if possible. After that failed, it informed me that I needed a ‘Customer Services Operator’ and went on to say that all were busy. I thought of saying that I didn’t want all or even some of them, just one, but realised that machines don’t do sarcasm. It added (helpfully) that it would take 5 to 8 minutes, but if I were to ring off I would be called as soon as someone was available; I would not, it assured me, lose my place in the queue. Fair enough, I thought, as I rang off and waited, and waited. After about 30 minutes, I rang back and got the same treatment, but this time the machine asked if I would take part in a customer satisfaction survey. Not with a bloody machine I wouldn’t, especially one that told fibs! So I waited and debated suggesting to Telecom that they use the people made redundant by machines to answer the phones.

Human Contact Needed

Whilst waiting, I searched Telecom’s contact details for ways to circumvent the mechanical minder of all those busy Customer Service Operators. I was astounded at the number of options available by e-mail which is a bit odd for a telephone company to prefer; it’s a bit like a bus driver encouraging you to take a taxi. I’d like to report a victory for the ordinary bloke against the megacorp, but sadly it wasn’t so. Eventually I was put through to another human being and was so moved by the sound of a real voice that I completely forgot to air my grievances and suggestions. My problem was sorted out by an obliging young lady in 2 minutes, 30 minutes fewer than the time it took to contact her. All-in-all it was a disappointing interlude; while my time isn’t of great marketable value, I still prefer not to have to place it in the hands of a machine. Telecom is one of the largest companies in New Zealand; it has made huge profits over the years and still enjoys a measure of customer loyalty despite increased competition. Outsourcing jobs offshore and scrapping frontline staff must surely strain that loyalty. Anyone involved in business knows the importance of availability and service; Telecom currently offers neither. It dishes out a system of contact that just serves to isolate clients, confuse and frustrate the elderly and those unfortunate enough to have a telephone problem.


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