Frustrating interactions with a phone robot

User-friendly, connectivity, seamless. These are three buzzwords of the IT age that have the most appeal because they conjure up a vision of convenience for the end-users.

If you can get user-friendliness or customer-friendliness at the first try, you are very lucky because it happens very rarely.

Don't think so?

Try dialling a 1-800 number of a service provider or government establishment and the auto answering device will ask you to press 1, press 2, press...

And connectivity is a buzzword the phone robot likes to suggest.

You call the phone line because you don't have access to the Internet. It's obvious to you but not to the bloke who designed the robot answering messages. So, the first instruction the phone robot gives is to ask you to go online to www.whatever... to get the information you want.

If you have the patience, you might wait, hoping some live person will be finally connected to you. So you listen to the sing-song "Our customer service personnel are still busy, we will attend to you as soon as possible."

The merry-go-round can go on forever. But sometimes it gets tired before you get tired, so it automatically hangs up the line and leaves you hanging. To be seamless is to be uncontactable, it seems.

If, after a long while, someone comes to the phone, you spend time explaining why you called, only to be told that you have to speak to the officer in charge. You will be asked to give your contact number and told that the officer in charge will return your call.

If you insist on getting the direct number of the officer, the person will reluctantly give the number, but will still ask you not to call first because the officer in charge is very busy. Please wait for his call.

And so you wait...

Really ingenious seamless connectivity that is extremely user-friendly, but not for the caller, it seems.

The agencies don't have to answer your phone calls, deal with your queries, listen to your litany of unhappiness and apparently, don't have to spend time fixing your problems.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2018, with the headline 'Frustrating interactions with a phone robot'. Print Edition | Subscribe