Hello? Hello? Aw, hell

If you read business news, then you know phone response centers are one of today's growth industries. Every time you turn around, there's another article about a new phone center opening, providing jobs for hundreds of people who'll take customers' calls.

So here's the question: How come, when you call a computer company or a governmental agency or an insurance claims office, there's no one to answer your call right away? Instead, you're subjected to Voicemail Hell, where you must "press 'one'" to get through complicated menus of choices before -- someday -- a human being comes on the line.

My theory long has been that voice mail is simply a stalling tactic, something to keep you busy while the phone workers finish their doughnuts. It doesn't really matter which buttons you push, as long as you're willing to stay on the line. Eventually, some operator will tire of that blinking light and answer your call.

But lately I've found that Voicemail Hell has become truly eternal. If you don't press a button, then the recorded message repeats until you do. And repeats. And repeats.

And heaven help you if you punch the wrong button. Might as well hang up and start over.

Those of us who run home businesses spend large portions of each day in Voice Mail Hell. For those of you who manage to avoid it, here's a sampling of what you're missing (with commentary):

"Thank you for calling Endless Delay Incorporated, a division of Satanic Industries. Your call is important to us--"

(Not important enough for someone to answer the phone.)

"--so please stay on the line."


"All operators are busy now. Your call will be answered in the order it was received."

(And you're No. 6,429 on the list.)

"Endless Delay Incorporated offers a variety of special services for our call-in customers. Please listen carefully to the following menu."


"To hear this menu in English, press 'one' now. For Spanish, press 'two.' For Mandarin, press 'three.' For Lithuanian, press 'four'--

"You have pressed 'one' for English. To hear these messages in standard American English, press 'one.' For British English, press 'two.' If you're calling from Alabama, y'all press 'three'--"

"If you know your party's extension, please dial it now."

(If I knew that, I wouldn't be listening to this blankety-blank recording!)

"To speak to someone in Customer Service, press 'one' now. If you have a Technical Support question, press 'two.' If you have a problem with one of our products, press 'three.' If you are responding to a product recall, press 'four.' If you are placing an obscene call, press 'five'…"

(I've forgotten why I was calling. Maybe if I just stay on the line, someone will remind me.)

"You have pressed an invalid number."

(But I didn't press a number!)

"To speak to someone in Customer Service--"

(Here, I'll press 'one.' OK? Happy now?)

"Someone with Customer Service will be with you shortly. Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line."

(Perfect. I can't just hang up now. Too much time has been invested.)

"Your call may be monitored for quality control."

(That's creepy. Who's monitoring it? The FBI? And if this company cared about quality control, wouldn't they just answer the phone in the first place?)

"All operators are busy now."

(Doing what? Having a Tupperware party? If they're not answering the phone, what else have they got to do all day?)

"Your call is important to us."

(So you said.)

"Please stay on the line."


Finally, finally, a real live human comes on the line, saying, "Customer Service. This is (insert unpronounceable foreign name here). How may I help you today?"

I explain what I need. And the operator says I've reached the wrong department. I need Tech Services, not Customer Service. And the operator offers to transfer me.

Then I'm back in Voicemail Hell, on permanent hold, listening to how important my call is and how everyone's too busy to take it.

I know I've reached the true depths of eternal misery when I find myself longing for Muzak.

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