Daily Archives: May 6, 2010

The Ease of Automated Answering Systems

With the advent of computers people said, it will cut down on paper usage, we’ll have far less need. As we all know, this was not the case and in many ways paper consumption has increased with the ease of being able to print pages off of a computer screen. Not to mention all those businesses that archive in paper because the computer might crash and wipe out sensitive, even insensitive information.

Everything is automated now. A mechanic can’t seem to troubleshoot a car by listening to it and tinkering. They have to plug it into a computer. If the power goes out, how many of us sit at work and twiddle our thumbs because we need the computer? Many if not most companies have gone to automated answering systems. But like the advent of computers and hope for less paper, have the automated answering machines made for less questions and easier answers?

How many times have you called up some place and there is such a long list of: If you want service, press 1, if you want sales, press 2, if you want accounting, press 3, etc. that you zone out and actually miss the one you should be listening for? I’ve done this. The most annoying is when you know that you have to talk to a real live person but it lists all the options except that one; you then have to go to a submenu and perhaps another submenu. Either you find out the button for real people or you don’t and have to hit * and # and 0 hoping one will work.

The most frustrating aspect of the automated system happened once when I had to pick up some friends from their return flight to Europe. I had Air Transat’s name and the flight number and the city it was departing from. So I called to check that the flight was on time and couldn’t find anything listed with that flight number or that city. I tried to call Air Transat but it was completely automated with flight departures and arrivals, rules for flying, etc. but there was no other number nor way of contacting a real person. I checked the phone book, I checked the website and no luck.

So then I thought I could call the airport and find out if they had any other information on where the flight had gone. My friends hadn’t contacted me to say they were delayed so I had to presume they were coming in but when? Well, the airport too has only an automated line, if you can even find that. This was a few years back so perhaps they have a tangible person in case you want to call and say, oh, I don’t know, you saw a terrorist with dynamite strapped to his chest driving into the parkade…but don’t bet on it.

I was still nowhere after a half hour of pushing buttons. I finally resorted to calling all the other airlines that had flights coming in that night from that area. I can’t remember which airline it was but I finally found one, only one, that had a live person. It might have been Air Canada and I may have called the flight reservation number. I explained my dilemma and the woman was very nice, trying to help me track the flight down. It took sleuthing on her part too as it turns out the Air Transat flight did exist but landed first in Toronto where they changed the flight number and its point of origin to Toronto (but didn’t put that on my friends’ tickets.) So the flight was coming in at the right time but with a different number and city altogether. That bit of sleuthing took over an hour.

I always thought they put in these automated systems to cut down on labor and having to pay more staff, but I think it is a reverse measure. It was put in to irritate the hell out of people and when they finally get a real person they’re relieved and don’t notice if that service is worse than it would have been without the messages. And I think it keeps people employed, because now they’re needed to fix the issues that the automated bots have caused. As well, should you become furious because of the system that leads you on a merry trail all over but never gets you to where you need to go, you can’t yell at anyone because no one is there. Saves them wear and tear, I guess. But, I know that with all the automated systems and when I make a call, about 85% of the time I actually need to talk to a person so it just seems to be a way of slowing down the incoming calls.

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