“Press 1 for English. Press 4 if you’d like to book a flight. Press 2 if this is an international flight.”

54 minutes.

That’s what my cell phone timer read when I was finally taken off of hold to speak to someone on the phone about booking a flight. This is only after being on hold for 35 minutes before the machine hung up on me and I was forced to call back and hold for another 54 minutes. Travelling with an infant means I could not book my ticket online, so hold I did. I put on my headset, gathered the family, and we played Monopoly. I wish I was joking.

This would be okay if it was an isolated incident, but then another company, another day, another customer service nightmare. This time only 28 minutes of holding with my long distance provider before I was able to get a human on the phone to help me change my plan, all the while being taunted with the usual prompt: “Your call is important to us.  Please stay on the line while we transfer your call to the next available representative.  For faster service, please visit us online at …”

I’m definitely not naïve to the financial aspect of the decisions behind these companies’ emphasis on automated phone systems and online services. The one-time cost of set up and minimal maintenance costs pale in comparison to the annual salaries of staffing an actual call centre, but does that mean that the human aspect of customer service is virtually extinct?

But then I got to thinking, maybe it’s my fault. I do my banking online. I pay my bills online, and I would’ve handled both of these calls online this week if the option had been made available to me. I really do tend to shy away from actual human interaction these days and much prefer the cold, efficient, and impersonal speed of managing my life online, minus the chit chat. And that scares me.

So, from here on in, I think I’ll make more of an effort to walk into my bank branch and actually get to know the people behind the counter and choose my service providers based on the customer service provided by their people, not their machines. I feel like it would at the least be a more accurate representation of their business culture and integrity, and at the most a reflection of my own. I’m sad to say that I doubt my little personal mandate will change the technological takeover, but at least I’ll be doing my small part.


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