« Mysterious Smells | Main | Don't Call, Don't Write. I'm in The Hole. »

February 11, 2009

Get Me a Live Human


Get Me a Live Human

By Elaine Viets

"Get me a live human, you idiot!" I screamed into the phone.

My husband, Don, in the other room, asked, "Did you say something?"

Yes, dear. I was arguing with a computer-generated voice. I used to hate these robot voices, but now I find them therapeutic. Yelling at a computer is better than Valium.

This session started when I called my bank to find out why I was paying a mysterious $15 fee.

"Welcome!" the robot said. This was a plummy male voice and I was in the mood to argue with a man, any man. Even one that wasn’t human. Robo Man talked to me in that condescending, soothing way every self-respecting woman hates. He had the sort of voice used when a pitbull has a man backed against the wall. I could imagine him saying, "Don’t do anything foolish there, Chauncey, old buddy. This state has a dangerous dog law."

"Go for the gonads, Chauncey," I’d urge from the sidelines. "Slice off his motherboard."

Robo Man was still talking to me in those smooth tones. "Would you like to open a new account? Apply for a loan? Find an ATM machine? Lost your card or checkbook? For all other assistance say, ‘Representative.’ "

"Representative," I said.

"I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that."

How could a computer be deaf? I ask you. I can’t ask Robo Man. He can’t hear me. He was in his endless mechanical loop, asking, "Do you want to open a new account? Apply for a loan? Find an ATM machine . . . "

I interrupted him with "Representative!" This time, I said it louder.

It didn’t work. Robo Man was still asking me if I wanted to open a new account, apply for a loan . . . I hate men who repeat themselves.

"Get me a live human, you idiot!" I shrieked. Magically, some poor soul from the subcontinent was on the line, asking how he could help me. He sounded like Apu in "The Simpsons."

The fun was over. I could not verbally abuse this meek-sounding man, no matter how angry I was at the bank’s unjust and unheralded $15 fee. I was speaking to a cyberslavey, someone who took abuse from angry customers half a world away. Screaming at the man would be like kicking a puppy. I would derive no satisfaction. Worse, I might make him into a future terrorist and American hater, if he didn’t dislike our nation already.

I took a deep breath and put on my most calm and reasonable voice. Either that worked, or the bank was desperate. The charge was removed. My $15 was restored to the bank account, where I could fritter it away on something I wanted.

There are ways to get a live human quickly when speaking to a computer.

I could have immediately used my own robot voice. All I had to do was answer in a zombie-like tone: "My Account. Is. One. Zero. Four." And so on. I’d have a live human on the line in no time.

But I was under a lot of pressure with my work and I felt like screaming. Yelling at a real person was too dangerous. I’d had too many customer service jobs. I knew what happened to people who abused clerks. My account would suddenly disappear. Or I’d start getting emails from the Barnyard Love Web Site. Or my phone number would be posted in the men’s room of a biker bar with this message: "I’m horny and lonesome. Call me after midnight."

Shouting at a computer hurt no one and helped me. I could scream abuse at Robo Man until I turned blue.

I was deprived of only one pleasure: I couldn’t reach through the landline and hit him.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Get Me a Live Human:


Whoa, Elaine. Everybody has to open a can of whomp ass now and then. Glad you found the can opener! Let 'er rip!

Beat his wiry robot ass! Go Elaine!

I hate having to traverse an auto-attends maze more than having a root canal.

Here's a website that reveals how to get a real human for a number of companies.

I remember calling Disneyland for information, wasn't really paying attention to the initial greeting - as I was waiting to hear my options (dial 1 if..). It wasn't until the operator repeated a couple of times Hello? Can I help you? that I realized a real human answered the phone. She laughed when I apologized and explained I wasn't expecting a real person to answer.

I'm bookmarking that gethuman site -- those mechanized phones are such a detriment to customer service.
I'm not sure why I'm awake so early, but thanks, Elaine, for making insomnia more pleasant. Your title gave me pause, though, perhaps because I'd just read an article on protests of using animals for medical training. For a minute I thought you were proposing a human alternative. . .of course, I'm a bit giddy from lack of sleep. Maybe I could make a call to a robot . . .
What if they record that part of the call? . . . but if they were that interested, surely they'd pick up the phone in the first place . . .
In the early days of computers (way back there with floppy disks and such) a friend had a "psycho-analysis" program that would answer your typed responses using some sort of word analysis -- I typed "damn" and it wrote back to me that using profanity wouldn't solve my problems.
First time a computer "talked" to me was a voice file a fellow teacher sent me, which said, "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave," and disrupted my students who had been quietly working while I checked school messages.
See, if they just hadn't taught the computers to talk . . .

There's been a rash recently of companies that have disabled the "0" prompt, ("I'm sorry, that command is not recognized") forcing one to work through the inane voice. I'm not sure if they think you'll give up and hang up, or delaying the inevitable, or what the thinking is. Like Elaine, I try very hard to be calm and polite when I finally do reach a person, but it's not easy sometimes....

This is a perfect example of what is wrong with today's economy.

Consumer: I want something.
Robot: I do not understand your request.
repeat yourself.
Consumer: I want to give you money if you
have what I want.
Robot: Please hold, I will provide some assistance.

(After listening to a 20 minute muzak medly of "Catch in the Cradle," "the Day the Music Died" and "All the Women I loved before," a human answers the phone.

Human: Как могу я помочь вам?

lol, Dave.

I like the ones where none of the prompt choices match what you want to do. So then you have to guess, and get a cranky person, when you finally get a person, who has to transfer you somewhere.

And my doctor's office, which has a 5-minute monologue you have to listen to before you can press your numbers. Because I never remember which number it is from the last time.


Damn, William, I didn't realize they were disabling the "0". I try to be a good sport with the mechanized menu system, but after awhile, it's nice to have that option.

I realize these systems save the companies money in terms of live customer service, but I wonder if anyone has ever studied how much business they lose due to frustration?

In other news, the weather here is Nutsville. Foggy rain, and they say it could go up to 60 today. 60 in Pittsburgh mid-February? Just not right. The potholes are reproducing faster than a whacko mother with an ethics-free doc.

Come down here, Kathy, where it's 72, as God intended. Well, maybe not God, Florida isn't a godly place. But it's nice and warm and we deserve it after hurricane season.

Luce, I love that site!

I was having similar issues last night, Elaine with a pharmacy listed on Luce's site.

I will book mark that site. I may even print it out and put it by the phone for the next time...

Oboy, one of my pet peeves, as well. Isn't it everyone's?

In the last couple of years I've developed a voice problem, and many times cannot be understood by a live human, let alone a voice-activated system. That "I'm sorry, I don't understand. Please repeat." is SO frustrating to hear over and over again. My forehead is much flatter than it was before, from banging it during this kind of "conversation".

Recently, I had the most bizarre experience with our health insurance company, who apparently unilaterally changed (reduced) our benefits without notice (but still upped our premium more than 30 percent). Calling the company for that problem was, as Laura mentioned, impossible to match to their automated options. Eventually, I spoke to no fewer than four different humans in at least three states (and possibly one other country), only to find that the oh-so-helpful people I had repeated my story to had transferred me completely out of the company altogether, and to some only distantly related entity, but one with no relevance to my particular service need. Rinse; repeat. Tear hair.

Nope, the issue was never resolved. I am now insured elsewhere. See what good it did them?

..."reproducing faster than a whacko mother with an ethics-free doc." Kathy, if I pay royalties, may I use that ?
Dave - Gospodie Bozhye moy - how do you get the Cyrillic font ?

I think you've got the recipe for a good stimulus plan, Elaine. Let's go back to actual live humans on the other end of the line and create a few jobs while we're at it.

My favorite phone/customer service story:

I have worked for Domino's for a long time. At one store, the manager had a policy: "You may hang up on anyone who curses at you."

One day a customer calls and starts with "The last time I ordered a sandwich it was *#$#@% lousy! It didn't have any $%&^%$ meat on it..." Jay, the driver answering the phone hung up on him.

About thirty minutes later customer calls back. "Where is my $%&%$ sandwich?" And Jay hangs up on him again.

About thirty more minutes later, the customer calls back and is calm enough to actually place an order. About ten minutes later Jay is at his house.

Now would be a good time to describe the customer and Jay. Customer is a balding 40ish accountant type. Jay is a linebacker for Southern Methodist University. Jay at the time was bench pressing over 400 pounds. Jay drove a black lowered pick up with "It's a Black Thang!" in black, red and green script on the tailgate and 15" woofers behind the seat.

So Jay is at the door, his truck is going BOOM, BOOM, BOOM in the driveway when he gives the man his sandwich. Jay thanks him and then says, "Sir, you should really be more careful who you curse at on the phone. It's not nice." And walks away.

And don't you love it when you're doing this in front of other people? My children start to look at me like I'm a mad person (I am) as I repeat, with increasing vehemence, "more options." . . . "MORE OPTIONS." . . . ."MORE OPTIONS MORE OPTIONS MORE OPTIONS!!!"

Elaine, I have had the same problem and wondered by '0' didn't work anymore (thanks, William--isn't it nice to know how much customers mean to these businesses)! When you finally reach a live human, they're from India and can't understand what you're saying--I actually asked for someone that spoken English as a first language--that got me some pissed off American, pissed because they had to actually work!!

As for a weather check, here in central Illinois--it's been 68 for the past two days, but only supposed to be 58 today. My mom got back from a month in Florida and said that she was happy to be back where it was warmer (she wasn't here for the -20 temps.

I happened to see serial Mom on CNN and she said she 'just wanted to be a mom' and that she 'didn't expected help from anyone', unfortunately, they also interviewed serial Mom's mother who said she has been taking care of the other six kids (apparently since birth--housing, feeding, and cleaning), and she'll take all the help she can get! Doesn't that doctor still have his license?

(Sorry for the spelling and grammatical errors--the wonders of modern medicine-cold and pain pills combined)

Alan, I LOVE that story -- and might want to tell it sometime. OK?

It's even funnier to see two dogs cocking their heads from side to side when you are talking your way through avoice activated auto-attends. Must be the repetition of commands not directed at them that they find so amusing.

I hate hearing the "0" doesn't work. I used to do that all the time. My latest "bitch" is that I'm on cell phone. I had a problem with DirecTv. My cell reception is awful (to say the least). Every time the call got dropped and I had to call back, I got a different agent and had to start describing the problem all over again. There was no way to reach the same person OR for that person to call me back if the call got dropped.

But I do hate those robot voices, especially when my "options" don't fit my problem.

Elaine is right. Florida is lovely right now.

storyteller Mary...thought you would like this ariticle.


If serial mom (love that!) really doesn't want "help", then why are three of her kids on disability, and why is she using food stamps? What a liar she is.

That woman is seriously disturbed. It's too bad her children will have to suffer from her stupidity and mental unbalance.

Renee - with my blessings. Too bad it's more true than funny.

That woman is CRACKERS - just saw a photo of her in younger days and it appears she had a nose job AND lip implants (or whatever they do).

I want the Docs and the Clinic/Hospital who did all FOURTEEN babies to be held accountable. WTF? (which, in this case, also means Without The Fuck).

One of the tricks I've used successfully is to use the Spanish language option. The call usually goes directly to a live person without all the additional number prompting.

I've also sometimes just respond, "cookie, cookie, cookie" when the current circle of hell wants a voice response.

Hey, know what's worse than dialing a number and hearing Robo-voice, having Robo-voice calling you back, after you've left in the a message in the appropriate mailbox for a human to call you back. Get all excited because someone is calling back to take care of your problem, then Robo-voice strikes again!!

What I hate is when I have to phone a company we use regularly and in their line up of numbers you have to wait until they say your number before you can press it. Even though I know I want to press 5 I have to wait until they tell me that option before I can press it. I have 1 through 4 memorized. And the same company has had the same recorded hold music/message for over 10 years! Mind numbing.

Pam, it's a wonderful article! I want to get the book, and I'm ready to do my part.
"We need again to imagine a future that is meaningful in the face of difficult circumstances. Listening to each other's stories may grant us a sense of common purpose that money can't buy."
Banks is the editor of “First-Person America,”

Last week, I talked at a computer generated voice that had a menu of options that was tricky. The dial "O" for operator wasn't an option , but I could enter "7" for a representative. Very sneaky.

Eeek, Dot! Robo return calls. Say it ain't so.

There are even fraudulent robo-calls. I came home to a message to "push 1" for information on my "frozen" charge account. Of course, you can't "push 1" on a recorded message, so I called the bank. It's a new way to speed up ID fraud -- #1 takes you to a "real live person" who will attempt to get information about your account. I do wish these people would go do something constructive -- of course, with unemployment up, there is now also more crime. the circle is increasingly vicious.

If you need to "get away" online vacation center has some oh-so-cheap deals right now. I'm almost tempted, despite not having sold the condo yet.

'Fraid so Elaine, they even put me on hold, so another Robo-voice could give me another menu. I wanted to throw the phone out the door, beat it with the broom. Really gave me some anger issues. I of course have dealt with those by screaming meaninglessly at the voice on the phone, dog ran away, hide the rest of the day.

I've discovered that one of my most valued skills as a college advisor is to be able to identify real, live people who can help students with their problems. If I want to tear my hair out trying to deal with the University's phone trees, I can't imagine what students must feel like!

One reason I love LL Bean - a very minimal phone tree (that will even warn you when winter storms have reduced their staff) and lovely customer service reps.

I'd tax breaks to companies that hire Americans, instead of "outsourcing" calls to other countries. That would help us all.

That's the best idea yet, Elaine.

Did you know that many of the medical tests you have done, like X-rays and MRI's, are no longer read in the US? Ain't that a kick in the head?

Elaine, I agree with the tax breaks for companies that hire Americans, outsourcing jobs can't be the right answer. One of the problems is that America has gotten the tiniest bit lazy, it's easier and cheaper to outsource service calls and re-route than it is to have someone pick up the phone and say 'hello'.

Karen, I had no idea that all those tests were outsourced as well. We pay a fortune for tests in this country, and part of that money is going some place else, really makes you stop and think. Are we sure we're getting what we're paying for?

For Laura (in PA) and j renee stuart -


Truth be told,
I cut and pasted these Russian words, I could not find anything from Asia, from http://babelfish.yahoo.com/translate_txt

as I was desperately trying to get our satellite service repaired, I would go through all the menu options, and listen to 5 minutes of awful canned music, only to get this, "I'm sorry, we can't connect your call at this time." H@#%&$!! And when I've talked to a real person(FINALLY), they don't know when my internet service problem will be resolved.

I have SPRINT for my cellular phone service (and I don't have a landline anymore). I can not even begin to describe the pure insanity that comes over me every time I have to contact them. PLEASE read "The World is Flat" to get an even better idea of how this all works. I finally wrote a letter to the VP of Customer Service for Sprint, located in Virginia. An actual LIVE person called me, someone who was not reading from a script. Someone that I did not curse at once, not out loud or in my head! This was after six months of them billing me city and state taxes for Texas ( I live in and always have lived in Michigan----definately not ever mistaken for Texas, except this once by Sprint). In any event the issue got resolved and my faith in real humans was restored for about a week, until the next time I had to call them.

I have imagined taking a hammer to the robovoice box many, many times. I keep thinking of all the enemployed folks in the US, who have brains and voices that would be so happy to have a job. I would love to speak with one of them next time I call SPRINT..........

I'd be interested in hearing. The TOS seems rather clear that it is not unless expressly approved by Amazon. I guess if the library got it in writing then they would be ok.

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site