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.


Susan Plunkett said...

I had seen that 'hot key' list a week or so back however it was US centric and so I passed on by.

I like my bank's system whereby you can phone in to hear a balance or deal with an issue and you can key numbers ahead. Hallelujah for that! I hate needing to sit through a automaton like series when I know darn well what it is I need to press (habit donchaknow).

Nathan said...

It seems that in the rush to be at the forefront of effective technological effectiveness, smaller nations and businesses around the world have focussed so much on what everyone else is doing, that they have lost perspective of why these changes are made. Voice automation, the employment of foreign contact centres - are these measures really necessary in countries like New Zealand?
It begs the question, have we all chosen to adopt the problems of larger nations and organisations as a means of justifying our need to look and act the same way?
How many times could a series of automated calls requiring 8 or 9 different sets of selections, be avoided by a 5 second call to a human assistant? Is this kind of mind-blowing service that far out of the company budget?

Anonymous said...

I think it should be in these corporations best interest to not be on this list. I work for a privately held firm on the list with 77 million customers and they almost go out of there way to bury a phone number to connect you with a human. Has life become that expensive?


And Kev, thanks for writing this blog... Makes my day.