Jackie Mason | May 1, 2004
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Anthony Lewis | May 1, 2004
Nine times out of ten, if you get an automated announcement...if you press "0" right away, they will connect you with a representative.

With my cellphone service, they have a "Virtual Representative". I can handle myself fine with that, but if I know I need to speak to someone right away, I just say "representative" into the phone, and I am connected.

But if you really want to have "fun" with an automated system...make reservations on AMTRAK. Wheeeeeeeee! (sarcasm)

Jackie Mason | May 3, 2004
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Erik Bates | May 3, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | May 3, 2004
It IS annoying. It's just that everything is automated now, every single place you call. I've done the "0" trick before too - you get a person a lot faster because I think they assume you are mad or impatient or have a serious problem. It's bad when you wait through the options and push a number only to get another menu. Argh!

Scott Hardie | May 3, 2004
I don't know, maybe it's because I haven't had to deal with automated answering services very often, but I sort of prefer them. When I punch the numbers to communicate with the computer menu, I know that I can get the result that I want, and that if something does go wrong it's my own fault. Sometimes when I talk to a person, they don't ask me all the questions the computer is programmed to ask, or they write down the wrong information, and the risk of error is much higher. I see how the same argument could be made in the opposite way, in favor of humans, but I'm just writing from experience here.

Example: Ordering pizza. When I call the restaurant and speak to a person, it seems to happen about 10% of the time that they screw up the order somehow, often because they couldn't hear me in that noisy kitchen. When I order pizza on the web, I never experience an error, and the form prompts me for things I wouldn't have considered on the phone, like light sauce or extra cheese or some spice packets. Plus, the web site offers coupons and discounts that the restaurant never mentions.

The day is coming when the drive-thru menus at fast-food restaurants will be push-button operated, with a little roof overhead to block out the rain. Speaking from my Taco Bell years, those radio headsets make it difficult to hear some customers (especially those in trucks and SUVs, whose rumbling engines wind up right next to the microphone), and those customers who prefer human service to automated convenience already come inside to order, so there's no loss there. All it will take is a couple of successful trials in local markets before some restaurant chain gets the chutzpah to roll this out nationwide. What will it cost? One fewer employee on the payroll, that's what.

On the subject of pressing "0" to talk to a human: That probably bugs the operators at the company, who get tired of handling customer inquiries that could have been done on the computer. But having heard from friends who did this for a living, I know that what really bugs them is when a customer demands to speak to the supervisor at the outset of the call, instead of handling the inquiry with the regular employee like they should. Customers think the supervisor will give you friendlier, more efficient service, and that's probably true, but supervisors have more important work to do than helping customers, which is why there are regular employees for that. It's like making a prank call to 911 and summoning the fire engine for nothing; it might delay it from putting out a fire elsewhere that really needs its attention.

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