Dear Belladonna Rogers,
I’m a tech-savvy guy, but like most of us, I have to call tech support from time to time. When this happens, I get angry.
Do you have any advice for dealing with this? The calls, the waiting time, the computerized voices and endless menus of options are enough to make me want to become a Luddite, but it’s too late to turn back now.
Aggravated in Atlanta
Few statements are more ludicrous, or more insulting to our individual and collective intelligence, than the cloyingly ubiquitous, “Your call is very important to us.”
No, actually, it’s not. If our calls were even remotely important to you, you’d hire more people to answer our very important calls. They aren’t and you don’t.
The phenomenon of call center-induced derangement syndrome has even inspired a web site devoted, as its name states, to providing telephone numbers most likely to connect you to an actual human being at some point in the course of your natural life: GetHuman.com.
The following five rules start with the moment you first realize you have to call for help: a moment in many lives that’s frustration-fraught, rage-filled, and impatience-driven. You’re often as annoyed with yourself as with the glitch — for being unable to solve the problem without turning to a stranger in the night thousands of miles away. That stranger, you fear, will rob you of the most precious commodity there is: your time.
Before you dial the number, remember this: you’re calling from a dark void of 21st century anguish. You need a guide, a Sherpa, who’s resourceful, trustworthy, energetic and has the patience to stick with you until the problem is solved. You won’t be friends for life, but for a brief time, you’ll be zealous partners with a single goal.
Following these five simple rules can make the difference between a long, painful, anger-increasing, and ultimately failed partnership, and a brief, reasonably calm, successful one.
RULE 1: STEP AWAY FROM THE TELEPHONE.
INITIATE YOUR CALL ONLY AFTER YOU CALM DOWN
Your instinct is to begin one of these calls when you’ve reached the end of your rope. Don’t. Just as road rage is dangerous and counter-productive, so is device-malfunction rage.
Before calling that 1-800 number, take a brisk walk, run in place, or listen to this:
Rule 2: DON’T JUST STAND THERE, DO SOMETHING
Before placing the call, make sure you’re prepared: do two things: first, have a household or office task to complete: organizing your sock drawer, filing papers, alphabetizing your spices, reading a book, responding to emails — whatever it is, plan to get something accomplished while on hold.
Second, before initiating the call, find the serial number and model number of the device. You’re going to need them and it’ll save time later if you have this information before you start.
RULE 3: DON’T LET THE OPTION MENU GET YOU DOWN
Option menus are among the banes of modern life, but try to approach them as speed bumps on the road to recovering your hard drive rather than as mortar attacks on all you hold dear. Option menus are, by their very existence, annoying. Ask yourself this: is your irritation at an option menu worth a heart attack?
A. THE SPANISH OPTION
When you hear the inevitable announcement about continuing in Spanish, try not to re-examine the entire political controversy over whether the United States should be a bilingual nation or solely an English-speaking country. Your goal is to focus on getting your technical problem solved. If you want to speak English, that’s still an option. If you prefer to discuss your problem in Spanish, go for it.
B. THEIR OPTIONS HAVE NOT ”RECENTLY CHANGED”; IF YOU REMEMBER THE OPTION YOU USED THE LAST TIME, USE IT AGAIN THIS TIME
Your next source of exasperation will be the warning not to press any numbers you may have pressed as recently as say, an hour ago, because – you know it’s coming – “our options have recently changed.” You’ll be tempted to think, “What if their options really have changed?” It’s the “recently” that will get you every time. How recently?
Wasting even more time, you listen to the same list of options you heard last month, last year, or when Chicago Cubs last won the World Series. You were right in the first place: the “5” you pressed in 2007 is still the number to press today.
C. THE $64,000 QUESTION:
“CAN YOU TELL US IN YOUR OWN WORDS THE REASON FOR YOUR CALL?”
Now comes the greatest challenge, especially for women whose voices are invariably not recognized by the computerized “ears” that have been programmed to “understand” only men’s deeper voices.
I recommend doing an end-run around this question. Just say,
“Twas brillig, and the slithy tove
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”
These nonsensical words from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 “Jabberwocky” are just the ticket to connect you to another human being. “Sorry,” the computerized voice will respond, “I didn’t understand you.”
You couldn’t get a better response than this, especially if you’re not understood three consecutive times. This will automatically trigger a default mechanism that rewards you with the chance to wait to converse with a fellow member of our species.
“I’ll connect you to an agent,” the computerized woman’s voice says. “You may hear silence until you’re connected.”
You won’t hear silence. Instead, you’ll be treated to the most jarring, brain-jangling jingle ever recorded, played on a sadistically endless loop until you finally do hear a human voice.
D. TIME TO ORGANIZE THE SOCK DRAWER, ALPHABETIZE YOUR SPICE RACK, OR FINISH THAT FILE WORK FROM LAST WEEK OR 1999
The wait begins. This is when you’ll hear how very important your call is. Many companies will also tell you how many minutes you’re likely to wait. If it’s more than one minute, place the call on speaker and apply yourself to whatever task you’ve decided to accomplish: finish the dishes, clean the kitchen counter, read a book, re-arrange your sock drawer. Plot a crime you’ll never commit but would deeply enjoy if you did.
When you hear that special click that signals that you’re about to speak to a human, this is when you have to pay particular attention. The agent will introduce him- or herself and will ask how he or she can help you.
RULE 4: DECIDE ASAP IF THIS IS THE AGENT WHO CAN HELP YOU — OR NOT
A. THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT NANO-SECOND OF THE CALL
You have to decide on the spot, based on how the person answers the call, whether you want to spend the next 20-60 minutes of your life with that person. It’s a little like speed dating on speed. With speed dating, you’re offered as many as eight minutes to decide