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A labyrinth called ‘automated calls’

If there is a gauge to measure frustration levels, highest on the list will be the “automated call option navigator”. All you want to do is to call the bank or the airlines with a particular query. The moment you hear “Our menu options have changed. Please listen carefully!”, rest assured, you will spend the entire day on a wild goose chase. If ever there was a modern-day maze, this is it! At least, in a physical maze, you can scream for help. Some Good Samaritan may pull you out. Here, there is none, you can scream your heart out.

The first problem with the navigator is that there are too many options. You need a notepad just to jot down the options before selecting one. As far as selection goes, it is like an exam with multiple choice questions where all answers seem equally correct. You select an option to the best of your knowledge. Each option leads to further options. That is when it dawns on you that this is going nowhere. It is like a trick played in the olden days, when someone scribbled on the margins of a library book, “Go to page 20.” When you go to page 20, it will say, “Go to page 43.” At the end of this frantic turning of pages, you will get to a big, bold message, “Fool! Don’t you have anything better to do?” The navigator on the phone is a modern-day version of this old trick.

Another version of this navigator trick is to raise your hope quotient. You will be greeted with the message, “You are now calling user 21.” At least, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. You move from 21 to 20 to nine to eight ... till it says, “You are calling user 1.” It is like playing the final over of a T20 match! When your turn arrives, you hear a ring and at that opportune moment, nothing happens! It is a complete blank or worse, the call gets disconnected. Sometimes, having waited on tenterhooks for over an hour, you hear, “Our hours of office are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Goodbye!” You jerk the phone a few times in frustration. You have to start all over again. It is like playing snake and ladders where the snake has swallowed you from spot 97 and dumped you back to spot 3!

Part of the trick

The navigator’s voice has an enthusiastic ring to it. This is also part of the trick. Your mood is terribly sullen as you go through this grind. At least, the voice can be a little sympathetic, to apply some balm to your jangled nerves. Instead, each time you start over, the tone of the voice never changes — like rubbing salt on a festering wound. The navigator designer surely has a mischievous streak. We would be better off if he left us with silence as we struggle with these options. Instead, we are greeted with instrumental music. As each stanza ends and the trumpet fades away, we feel we will get to a human being. The stanza ends; the next one takes over. Even a three-hour classical concert may end, but not this. It plays till eternity, or till you lose patience and disconnect the call.

I accidentally stumbled upon an exit strategy. Do not make any selection when the first set of options come up. It will repeat the options once, twice, thrice. If you have the courage to stay still, it will say “transferring you to the operator”. That is exactly what you want! I have had great success with this technique. Of late, some devious mind has plugged this hole. These days, it says, “Sorry. You have not selected any option. Goodbye!”

Humans are social beings. We need another person to hear us. Another human being to say “I understand”. Automation and Artificial Intelligence is fine. But spare us from this exercise in futility. Can we make it mandatory for the navigation menu to have an option like “give me a human being”? I bet 100% of the people will select this option!

shankar.ccpp@gmail.com

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 12:22:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-labyrinth-called-automated-calls/article33480508.ece

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