Friday, 15 August 2008

Automated Answering - Time for Legislation?

It's pretty much a cliche that we all hate being put on hold, told we are in a queue and then forced to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody for who knows how long. The wait may be long, or very long but the stress is inevitable, and comes from the utter powerlessness of your situation. By the way, I don't believe that Lisa, Trisha and Mandy are separate members of their customer care team - just the same person with a different random name that appears on their screen each time they answer a call.

Anyway, I have to admit that on a couple of occasions I have had experiences that break the mould. Sadly I don't recall the organisations, or I would give them full credit here. But how refreshing their approach was. This time the script went like this: "We are sorry that all our operators are busy at the moment. Your call has been placed in a queue. You are number. One hundred and thirty seven. And we expect your call to be taken in approximately. Four. Minutes." Yeah right, you hear me thinking. Four minutes indeed. Then the message again, only now I am 103 in the queue and the estimate is 3 minutes. Then 69 and 2 minutes. And yes I do get to speak to a real human being in roughly 4 minutes. What a brilliant system! I love these people!

But sadly this system has not caught on, despite the fact that it's the ideal way to make friends of all your customers. Or maybe because of this fact - at least in the case of those companies who just want to fleece the customer by keeping them on a premium line for as long as possible, rather than actually providing a service.

Now I think the situation calls for legislation. It should become law for all companies to operate an accurate, informative automated answering system like this. The government could even pay for it all with the savings from the National Health Service having to deal with far fewer stress-related illnesses!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Conservatives Need a New Name

The perceived wisdom is that - sooner or later - Gordon Brown is on his way out and the Conservatives will win the next election. This may or may not be true. What certainly is true is that I will never vote for any party associated with the word `conservative'.

Conservative - what does it mean? The dictionary I consulted offered `favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change'. Now `traditional' has positive connotations for me when applied to, say, beer or cheese; but people who claim to espouse traditional values are often those whose idea of traditional is the transient social norms of the 50s. And those who `tend to oppose change' are close cousins to the those such as creationists who deny its existence. To`tend to oppose change' is irrational, cynical and often born of self-interest.

The head of an organisation to which I once applied for a job explained that his organisation was clearly successful by any of the accepted measures. He did not know why, but he was not about to change anything: `if it ain't broke, don't fix it*'. At that moment I lost interest in the job. He should have said, "I don't know why it works so well, but I am going to find out. Then I am going to figure out how to make it even better." But he didn't - he was a conservative.

If the Conservative Party seriously wants to attract new voters like me, it needs a new name, one that embraces change, optimism and generosity of spirit. Any suggestions?

* H L Mencken defined a platitude as `something that everyone believes to be true, but which is in fact false'. This phrase is a good illustration.