I feel older and angrier just reading this

According to MarketWatch:

Americans will likely waste more than 900 million hours waiting on hold this year, according to an analysis of more than four million phone calls from consumers to businesses released this week by mobile advertising analytics firm Marchex. And a survey by text-message service TalkTo found that more than half of Americans say they spend 10 to 20 minutes every week — or 43 days of their life — on hold.

To consumers, this is incredibly irritating: One survey found that being put on hold was one of consumers’ top three phone pet peeves (the other two were automated attendants and the person on the other line having bad manners, or having a bad attitude).

There’s more at the link.

What’s even worse is to speak to a ‘customer service representative’ whose English is sub-standard, whose accent is incomprehensible, and who appears to be incapable of understanding or doing anything other than what’s in the script in front of him or her.

“Sir, you need to reboot your router and see whether the signal returns.”

“I’ve already done that three times, and my computer as well.”

“Please do it again, Sir.”

“You don’t understand.  I used to be a computer systems engineer.  I know what I’m talking about.  The router isn’t the problem.”

“Yes, Sir, but you need to reboot your router before we can continue to the next step.”




  1. I can understand – barely – what's behind that: dollar (or rupee, dinar or baht) cost of keeping a warm body in a chair with a phone, said warm body being the cheapest (read: technically illiterate) chair occupant.

    Manufacturers and sellers seem to believe their customers are more stupid than they are; I'm sure that's true in a number of cases, I've seen any number of consumers who are barely able to feed and dress themselves. But….given how unproductive it is to call a maufacturer or seller, most of us will exhaust all other resources before subjecting ourselves to that: product documentation, web site, user forum, google search, tea leaves, animal sacrifice, the bum sleeping behind the dumpster, etc.

    So, because warm bodies – even incompetent ones – and phones are expensive, many manufacturers put email links on the web sites.


  2. I am a nurse. What was mentioned above just covers a single call we have to make to an insurance company to get a Prior Authorization, or in laymen terms – an exception to the coverage for a medication. We routinely receive responses from people who have no clue what a medication is, let alone the symptoms that the doctor has so carefully described. If it doesn't fit the exact template they are seeing, it's either denied or placed on pending for review and a response in 24-72 hours. There was one call where my first human answered at 19 minutes and I finally spoke with another who worked on the issue at 29 minutes and finished at about 31 minutes. Yes, a two minute issue took 31 minutes of my time. The next time you call a doctor's office and wonder why the med replies take a while, there is your answer. Thank the insurance companies. There is actually one I call frequently enough that I have learned the moment the computer answers to say, "something else". When the next computer response occurs say, "something else" and after another transfer a human will speak. There is another system from Blue Cross Blue Shield though which I have yet to speak with a human.
    My all time worst was one where the insurance company faxed a notice to the doctor's office announcing that the patient *John Smith* could have his medicine by just resubmitting it at the pharmacy. I looked and noted that there was a page and a half of *John Smith (not the actual name, of course)* so I called the insurance company with the code they provided and asked for identifying information so I could rout the information to the correct chart. Eleven minutes later and enough frustration that I wanted to pull Ghost Dad on the company, There was still no answer to which patient the notice belonged. After all, they could not give me information unless I could properly identify the patient. Never mind that they didn't properly identify the patient and that was the reason for the call. I can so feel your frustration.

  3. Peter?

    Having been the guy that the guy the script-droids call when nothing works, I can tell you that hardest problems to crack come from the buzz-word compliant user who only knows 95% of what he thinks he knows. ::shudders:: …and when all you have is a voice on the phone, there is no way to tell that user from one who really knows which way is up.

    That being said, it's frustrating, ain't it? Especially when getting at the equipment means climbing under a desk and reaching behind a bookcase? Especially when you know the problem is a lack of IPv4 addresses available for assignment by the DHCP server?

    Things went much better when I hung my "modem" and data switches on the wall in an easy-to-get-to spot. …and even easier when I switched ISPs. 🙂

  4. I used to work for a company who had to deal with computer issues over the phone quite often. As a reasonably computer literate twenty something kid, I can tell you that customers who knew what they were talking about were prized and adored at our company. Because calls from them were rare as a vegan at a Brazilian steak house. 🙂

    I literally spent eight minutes explaining to a man where his space bar was. He didn't believe he had one. The deeper problem was that he didn't know what his keyboard was, and wouldn't listen to me. He kept saying 'Im clicking everywhere but I can't find the button you're talking about!'

    And this is yet another reason why routing these poor folks to the Phillipines or India is a terrible, terrible idea. When you combine two sorts of illiteracy on a phone call and throw in a computer, EVERYONE'S time gets wasted.

  5. I remember calling Verizon DSL service a few years ago: I had done the preliminary testing and was pretty sure the problem related to a particular setting, but was unfamiliar with the options there to make a sensible choice.

    I called tech support, dreading the run-around I was going to get. I got a very nice young woman with a distinct Indian accent (and who did not attempt to claim a Western name—first good sign!). She started the diagnostic script, but when I said I’d tried that first step and some additional testing she went off-script and asked what else I’d already done. She confirmed that I’d done all the reasonable diagnostic steps, and went straight on to the setting which I suspected was the problem. Yup, that was it.

    I made sure to get her name and talk to her shift supervisor. I was careful to praise her professionalism and respect for the customer and not talk too much about her willingness to go off-script, but I made certain her bosses knew they had a pleased customer. (It took me longer to explain to the supervisor what I wanted than the initial tech-support call had taken: “I want to talk about Miss ——. No, I’m not calling to complain. I’m calling to praise her—yes, she did an exceptionally good job and I want you to pay her more and hire more people like her.”)

  6. The silliest thing that I've ever heard is the local hospital that calls me by computer about my slow paying and then asks me to hold for the next available operator. (I don't.)

  7. Our (not so) smart meter burned itself up and quit working. My husband called the utility company to tell them. He gets dumped into about 10 minutes of voicemail hell before he gives up. I decided to try calling but used different words like "Burned" "Fire". I was handed over to an actual operator almost immediately. I think I guessed the right "Secret Squirrel" words.

  8. But the WORST – I mean the CommuNaziBabyRaping WORST – is companies that make you listen to ADS while you're on hold. Whenever possible I stop doing business with such companies.

  9. I had a lady working for South Western Bell tell me many years ago that the problem with my brand new DSL install was my computer. This is less than 2 minutes after I had informed her that my brand new DSL modem would not sync even if taken outside my house and hooked straight up to the demarc block. Some people really need a clue. I came home from work the next day and called SWB support again and finally got a person with a clue and within the hour the DSL was up and running. But the kicker to me is that to this day when you are waiting on hold they keep giving you a www address to go to for support when the problem is you don't have www access.

    P.S. Your call is important to us (not) @#$%^&*&.

  10. My favorite thin to say when talking to Bombay is to say " I'm sorry I can't understand you" they finally route it to a USA person that is Cajun or from Joisey or speaks in Eubonics. Oh well.

  11. Prescient, this.

    Just yesterday I spent 25 minutes and 45 seconds on hold with an industry-leading company in the firearms accessory business whom I won't name to avoid incriminating the guilty. Fortunately, I have a speakerphone so the time wasn't a complete waste, just a partial one – I was still trapped in the office so as to be near the phone.

    Why? I purchased one of their products – not new, it's been out for over a year, although the version I bought has new features – and neither the product documentation nor their web site, nor anyone else's web site, had information regarding an accessory for it.

    When a bored and frustrated employee finally answered, the conversation lasted fewer than 10 seconds: "Do you have an X that fits your product Y version 2?" "Yes, it's the X model Z." "Thank you."

    Like the commenter above, I would have gladly emailed them for this info, but my experience is the same as his (or hers?) – the damn companies NEVER respond to their consumer emails at all, much less do so promptly, so if you want a question answered before the sun dies and the planet cools you have no choice but call them. This manufacturer, like lots of them, has a phone feature allowing one to leave a question and – theoretically – get a call back with the answer. I've never seen that work anywhere, probably because if they're too busy to answer your call promptly who is it that is going to call you back?

  12. I work in a technical field (scales), and I get to be on both ends of tech support! Yay me! At least in my field, when providing service, I am AT the equipment. Things get truly fun when I need manufacturer support. That's when I start to want my shotgun…half my tech support is based out of Cebu City Phillipenes, the rest is completely and utterly convinced that I haven't even bothered to Crack open the frigging scale.

  13. I work for a major cell company in tech support, in theory our scope of support is can you make calls and does cell data work. That's it. In reality, we end up assisting with anything in the OS, and hardware to apps. Primary reason is most mfg either do not have phone support, or like a certain one charge $19.99 a session after 90 days. Lets not get started with apps and login credentials for all the different possible things out there. However the real gems are the folks who just call in, and keep calm, and most of all are willing to accept help, instead of someone to vent their frustrations on. Also I pray for the soul of anyone who buys an iPhone for an elderly parent who has never had a smartphone, then leaves town to go back home.

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