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Doug Kneibert - Contributing Columnist

Doug Kneibert

Contributing Columnist

When the 20th century drew to a close, various lists were compiled of the greatest inventions of the 1900s. What I didn’t see were suggestions for the worst inventions of the century. In that category I don’t have to think very hard, for the answer comes instantly to mind: Automated call-direction systems (ACDs).

Yes, I know, they save businesses money and boost the nation’s productivity. But who speaks for the poor sap who risks losing his sanity trying to navigate through the computerized maze that is the modern ACD system?

In a recent encounter with not one but two ACD labyrinths, it was man vs. insidious technology. Man lost, as I was destined to do when you combine a serious patience deficit with a technological aptitude reaching down into the negative numbers.

Automated answering systems are all about “options,” and you must listen carefully for they are in a constant state of change. The buttons on your phone correspond to the options, but after hearing the seventh option I’ve forgotten which option was closest to what I wanted. So I have to begin all over again.

If I manage to punch all the right buttons and get transferred to what I hope is my goal, instead I hear another disembodied voice that is offering me a whole new set of options. Or I can always stay on the line for even “more options.”

I don’t want any more options. I’ve heard too many already. The only option I would opt for would be the one that connected me, and quickly, to a real, live, breathing human being, the kind who used to answer the phone with a pleasant, “Close Second National Bank, how may I help you?”

Dream on. Those employees were long ago given early retirement, being replaced by electronic robots whose sole function is to turn you into a quivering lump of Jello. In my case they succeeded, for I couldn’t penetrate the multiple obstacles ACD systems erect that prevent you from reaching your party.

After several frustrating minutes of getting nowhere, I found myself mouthing naughty words into the telephone. By the end of the ordeal – the end being when I finally gave up— I was mentally heaping curses on all automated call-direction systems and the evil geniuses who invented them.

Callers who are actually able to run this electronic gauntlet may, if they are very patient and very lucky, in time reach an actual person – but not without first being told that all circuits are currently busy and being treated to a musical interlude that can last as long as the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth. When you finally do reach someone, English is likely to be this person’s second language – a very distant second, and without the aid of an interpreter little actual communication is likely to occur.

The older ACD systems were limited to directing you to push certain buttons, but current models have you speak directly into the phone to the robot you are dealing with, like when she says, “Say ‘checking account,’” or, “Say ‘I want to know my balance.’ ”

After my harrowing Night of the ACDs, I would like to see this “Say” option added: “Say ‘I’ve had enough of this c____ and I’m hanging up!’ ”

Oh, did I mention that all of the above, and much more, goes under the name of “customer service”?

Doug Kneibert is the former editor of the Sedalia Democrat.

Doug Kneibert is the former editor of the Sedalia Democrat.

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