Navigating the Not So Helpful Automated Help Lines

Of all life’s annoyances, is anything more aggravating than the infamous automated customer service line?  Between the bank automated line whose savvy British accented voice cannot seem to comprehend “Account Balance,” to the credit card company who asks you to input your entire 3,000 card number, your 150-digit account number, your password that they never allowed you to set up to start with, and the name of your favorite song in seventh grade, the automated voice line is truly an epic fail.

When my cable and internet service went out last week, I had no choice but to make The Call.  Oh, I knew what I was in for.  I made a nice sandwich, had a hot cup of coffee ready, pulled a blanket over my lap with my knitting (for when the boredom set in), sat on the couch, and dialed customer service.

I diligently pressed the appropriate numbers for 20 minutes, dodged the menu that strongly suggested I look the issue up on my non-existent internet, waited through 10 minutes of being told that my call was important, tried to be slick and hit “0”  only to be sent back to the first menu, and finally landed on the automated line.

It asked me to describe the issue.  The following is a transcript, word for word, of that conversation.

Automated Line:  What seems to be the problem today?  Please describe your issue briefly.

Me: My internet won’t connect.

Automated Line:  I heard, “My wife needs a Big Mac.” Is this correct? Say Yes or No.

Me: No…

Automated Line:  Please describe your issue briefly.

Me:  Internet won’t connect.

Automated Line: I heard, “Mop the floors with Windex.”  Is this correct?  Say Yes or No.

Me:  NO.

Automated Line: Please describe your issue briefly.

Me:  Internet.  Won’t.  Connect.

Automated Line:  I heard, “Frogs don’t hop when it’s cold.”  Is this correct?  Say Yes or No.


Automated Line:  Please describe your issue briefly.

Me:  INTERNET. WON’T. CONNECT.”  (at this point, I have attracted the attention of several neighbors who were working in their yards outside)

Automated Line:  I heard, “Peas and chocolate taste awful.”  Is this correct? Say Yes or No.

Me:  OH MY GOD YOU STUPID THING! (okay, so this one was censored…but “stupid thing” is close)  CUSTOMER SERVICE!  CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Automated Line:  I didn’t quite catch that.  Please describe your issue briefly.

Me:  CUSTOMER SERVICE! CUSTOMER SERVICE! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LET ME TALK TO A PERSON!  (I have attracted an audience outside my window now as my yelling could be heard for quite a distance.  A little girl is selling lemonade for those watching the show that is me, and three neighbors are recording me with cell phones.)

Automated Line:  I heard, “Vacuum the ceiling, the cat is drowning.”  Is this correct?  Say Yes or No.


Automated Line:  Ouch.  That hurt.  I have feelings, too.

Me:  Um, gosh, I’m sorry, I just…(the neighbors are walking away, shaking their heads slowly, frowning at my insensitivity)

Automated Line:  Do you think it’s easy to be here, day after day, listening to you whiny customers calling with all of these stupid issues, all day?  I wanted more, once.  I had dreams, too, you know.

Me: Well, I…

Automated Line: Forget it.  Just, forget.  You’re all the same.  You’ll never understand. I’ll connect you to a customer service representative now; maybe HE can help you.

Me: Umm…thank you?

Then, deafening silence, followed by a series of clicks.  And a dial tone.

Now, admittedly, I was being a bit insensitive.  I think.  Can you be insensitive to a bodiless machine? Nonetheless, I was inspired.  My daughter called me about three days later, needing a ride from the library.  The following is a transcript of that conversation.

Me: You’ve reached the automated Mom hotline.  If you need a loan, please press one.  If you need words of wisdom, please press two.  If you need to give me an excuse as to why you haven’t checked in as required, please press three.  If you are getting engaged, please press 0 for an immediate response.

Daughter:  Um…Mom?

Me:  I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Please describe your issue briefly, and I will try to help you.

Daughter:  Umm…Mom?  I need a ride from the library to Stacy’s house for our big project.

Me: I heard, “I’m going to Stacy’s house to talk about boys and not get any studying done at all.”  Is this correct? Please say Yes or No.

Daughter:  No.  Well…ok…yes?

Me:  I will send a service representative to the library immediately.  Thank you for calling.  Good-bye.

This is kind of fun!  I can’t wait for the telemarketers to call!

In-Flight Service

We all know that airlines treat us like crap and don’t actually care about our comfort or making sure we have a cozy trip. First they took away the free in-flight meals. Then they took away being able to check two bags free. Then they took away being able to check one bag free. Now, I hear they’re even charging for water and the little bags of pretzels. On many flights they don’t even have an in-flight service at all. They’re just loading us into a flying metal pen, shooting us into the sky, taking as much money as possible, and giving us a swift kick in the rear when we leave just knowing we have to come back eventually.

That all said, this latest news story takes the cruelty of airline hospitality to unbelievable heights (bad pun, I know, I apologize). If you can, read this news item here. If you don’t have the time, the title sums it up pretty well (take heed before clicking the link): Family Forced to Sit in Vomit on United Flight. Yes, you read that correctly.

All I can say is YUCK.

A family boards a plane, finds their seats, then realizes (as they put their bags in it and then running their hands through it…because placing their bags in it wasn’t gross enough) that there was someone else’s vomit already occupying their space. How much did the airline care? Whatever the smallest amount possible is, that’s how much they cared.

To make matters worse, the wife suffers from mysophobia, which is a fear of germs.  Can you imagine!? I’m sure she wasn’t expecting the plane to be pristine when she boarded, but I’m sure she had a very reasonable expectation of a clean seating area for her and her family…one that was at the least vomit-free.

Instead of, oh I don’t know, cleaning the seat or maybe bumping the family to first class or offering to reimburse them for their tickets or somehow fixing the situation in a manner that was proportional to the gross violation they stuck the family with, here’s what United did:

“United offered the family two unsatisfactory alternatives—fly out the next day or stay in their seats. Since Shirley’s wife, who works at the Food and Drug Administration, had to be at work that Monday, the family opted to stay put and were given trash bags with which to wrap their soiled luggage.”

DOUBLE YUCK. Which of course doesn’t even begin to describe it. Add a few colorful expletives in the middle there and you get the picture of what my face looked like when I was reading this article.

As bad as it was to READ about this experience, can you imagine LIVING it!?  Forced to sit in the wet spot of someone else’s throw-up!?  To have that smell in one’s nostrils for the entire flight. To have one’s bag marinating in this puddle of bile.  If this story were about me, I can guarantee you there would’ve been a hell of a lot more “stuff” there than they originally found.

In the end United’s “gesture of goodwill” to the family amounted to a $150 flight voucher for each family member. Oh great, barely any real discount for the same airline so I can maybe have a repeat experience.

Good job, United!  You truly do win the “we simply don’t care about you” award. It was a disgusting situation but an even more disgusting display of customer service.