Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Human Touch

There is a great moment in Hari Kunzru’s novel Transmission when a young Indian woman working in a Bombay call centre, finds she has developed an Australian accent as the result of mimicking the customers she speaks with everyday. (Note that Kunzru has strong New Zealand connections, visits often and should be lobbied to replace the Australian scenario with a Kiwi one in the next edition.) We have all been on the receiving end of call center ‘service’ and experienced that mix of curiosity, astonishment and frustration when trying to sort out local problems with someone seated halfway around the world. That is nothing compared to the impotent rage experienced when you are cued to press one button after another as you struggle to get some task done. And we’re not talking a fun treasure hunt here either; we’re talking about completing dull everyday transactions as fast as possible. When I mentioned I was posting on this issue, a friend told me they once had to press eight different numbers to get through to a real person on a local phone number. OK then, for all of you determined to talk with a real person and fed up with the number crunching, help is at hand. Consumer advocate Paul English has started the Gethuman movement. On the Gethuman site you can see the keys you need to press to get to a human voice on many business and government phone numbers. Amazingly there is a lot of variation.

  • GE Finance CareCredit - dial the number then press # at each prompt ignoring the messages.
  • RiteAid - Don’t press or say anything.
  • MetLife Bank - Press 000 rapidly and repeatedly, ignoring messages.

A few companies have the wonderful: “Direct to human” annotation. Bouquets for Southwest Airlines, the FBI, White House, Barnes & Noble and Walt Disney World, among a select few. You still have to punch keys though you don’t have to do it on command from an electronic voice. Currently the Gethuman site is American-centric, but there’s nothing to stop localized versions.

Humans unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.