Automated Customer Service

2016-0728 Automated Customer Service

When I decided to visit an out-of-state friend, I knew the best way to get there was on an an airplane. I used every travel site on the internet to search for the best combination of date, time, and price. Since I could not find the combination I wanted, I decided to check a few airline sites to see if they listed any better schedules. I found the schedule I wanted, but the airline I chose had the worst website imaginable . . . the kind that tells you there is an error, but does not tell you where the error is or how to fix it. In addition, the website timed out twice while I was entering my contact information.

I thought calling the airline would be faster than using the online system, but I was wrong, When I called the airline, I was greeted by a pleasant automated customer service message that instructed me to press [1] for something, [2] for something else and so on. By the time the message finished, I had absolutely no idea which button to push, so I pressed zero several times. The automated customer service system told me it did not recognize my entry. I received the same response when I tried the asterisk, pound, and nine. Resigned to the fact the computer won, I pressed the [1] button. The computer thought about my response, then politely informed me I had once again pressed an invalid key then it hung up on me. I promptly redialed the airline.

During my ninth or tenth attempt to reach an operator, I once again followed the automated instructions, but had no idea what to do. I randomly pressed the [4] button. The person who answered my call sounded exactly as I imagine someone sounding who was surprised to hear a voice other than her own. I explained how I reached her and what I wanted to do. She mentioned I reached the wrong extension, but she could connect me to the automated reservation system or try to help me herself. The second option did not sound great, but the first option sounded worse. I gave her the information she requested.

When she wanted to know my seating preference, she asked me if I wanted a First Class, Premium, or Coach seat, I explained I had not flown in a while and I had not heard of Premium Seating. There was no response from her, so I asked what I thought was the obvious question. “Could you please explain the features of Premium Seating?” When she admitted she could not, I suddenly realized that transferring to the automated system might have been the better option after all.

I don’t know the real benefits of Premium Seating, but I imagine it includes some combination of 1) receiving half-eaten first-class food; 2) receiving one ice cube more than the coach passengers receive; or 3) receiving exit row seating where passengers theoretically have more leg room than coach passengers.

Since neither of us knew the benefits of Premium Seating, I chose the coach option. I was beginning to think walking across the country might be faster than scheduling a flight. Suddenly, I heard the magic words “your confirmation number is . . . . ” Thankfully, I now have a flight confirmation.

Do you feel being patient with automated customer service machines is as important as being patient with people?

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  1. You missed the golden opportunity to give your customer service rep. a good dose of comic relief. I would forego any prize won by posting two comments just to know the response of the CSR when you mentioned half eaten meal and extra ice cube. That is classic Scott Friedman. The kind of thinking that gets one beyond adversity.
    Had I your wit when I was real live CSR it would have been less painful. My customers would hang up laughing or I would have been fired. Either way I would have been better off.
    No automated system affords such an option.

    1. Dan, the automated customer service saga does not end there. When I returned from the trip, my internet access did not work. I called the cable company since they provide internet access as well. The automated CSR said “good morning,” even though it was definitely evening everywhere in the United States. The CSR informed me the provider recently changed names, then it hung up on me.” I called back using a slightly different number I accidentally dialed — same company, same eerie CSR voice. However, this time the CSR seemed to know I had already been told about the name change. I was given the option of pressing [1] if my call was about cable service, [2] if my call was about something else. After pressing [2], I was given another list of buttons to push. I hung up, went to bed, and dreamed about the problem being fixed by the time I woke up.

      I rarely share my thought with human customer service reps for two reasons: 1. It is almost impossible to reach them; and 2. They tend not to understand the humor/truth in my comments.

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