Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Where have all the humans gone?

Am I growing old and grumpy?
No . . . you needn't reply to that question. The answer is probably 'Yes', but it's immaterial. I may be grumpy, but I'm also deeply puzzled . . . not to say unhappy.
I repeat my question, "Where have all the humans gone?"

Have you recently needed to phone any large, impersonal organisation with an enquiry? If so, did you get a robotic voice that was almost scaring in its lack of humour and common understanding?

To give you an example. The Christmas cards that I ordered from a large charity had failed to arrived by early December. A little worried, as the overseas cards needed posting, I phoned the charity to enquire if there had been a problem with my order.

"What's your post-code?" a female voice intoned.
I told her . . . and was left holding on for several minutes.
"Your order has been received," she told me on her return, "we can guarantee that it will be with you by Christmas."
This was ridiculous . . . I was growing exasperated.
"Look . . . I haven't ordered these cards for my own enjoyment!" I retorted, "They've got to be written and posted before Christmas!"

"Your order has been received," she repeated, "and will be dealt with in due course."
Far from allaying my fears, the colourless person on the other end of the phone didn't even recognise the ludicrous nature of her response.
Was it a 'she', or had the charity employed a little green alien with no sense of humour or humanity?

The cards did arrive . . . just in time.

More recently, I received a letter from my bank. Any communication of a financial nature always leaves me feeling baffled and inadequate, but this particular letter had a reassuring final paragraph.
'If you need any assistance,' it said, 'contact a Personal Advisor . . .' and it provided a phone number to make good its offer.
I phoned.

My Personal Advisor sounded defensive rather than helpful. I outlined my difficulty. She explained that she, personally, was unable to assist me.
"But it says in this letter that I should phone your number for help?" I said, baffled.
"I can help you to find the relevant part of the letter that relates to your problem," was the response.
"But it's the whole letter . . . " I was growing confused, "it's why you sent it to me?"
"In relation to your question, I can't give an answer," said my Personal Advisor.
I tried to be specific.
"You talk about percentages," I said, "can you explain how they would relate to my account?"
"In relation to your question," she replied (was this a phrase she'd been instructed to use at every opportunity?) "I really can't advise."
"But surely you can explain what I would receive from the percentages you quote?"
"I don't have a calculator," said my Personal Advisor conclusively.
Our relationship, such as it was, had reached an impasse.
"You'd better phone this number," was her final, and only, advice.

With little faith, I phoned the number she had given me.
Oh . . . what a delight! A voice with a smile in it! The voice of a woman who sounded as though she had a real life . . . a life with relationships, hopes and aspirations.
Within minutes we had sorted out the problematic letter.
When we concluded our conversation I felt as though I had made a friend, or, at the very least, had held out a hand to someone who had accepted it.

Are all these so-called Personal Advisors being told that hostility is the best approach? Is this an example of the defensive culture depicted by those alarming restrictions imposed by Health and Safety?

I'm sorry . . . this is no way to start a New Year. But do you see why I'm feeling grumpy and anxious?
And what makes it worse is the fact that hostility is infectious. When we receive hostility, it's all to easy to offer hostility in return.

It seems to be time for a New Year resolution . . . how's this . . .

"I will do my best to respond sweetly to robotic voices and not to be grumpy with my friends."

There you are . . . but I'm afraid there's no three-hundred-and-sixty-five-day guarantee!

I know it's a little late to say this, but 'A Very Happy New Year'!