Each semester, I teach an on-line college class over the Internet. This past semester, I taught an abnormal psychology class for the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL. While I enjoy teaching, I don't enjoy downloading materials from my students. It just takes too much time to retrieve their work even at 56K. One of my students told me that she had just gotten DSL cable connection and that downloading was extremely fast. I decided that was the way to go. I called one of the national leaders in this technology to sign up for the service. That began one of those senseless run arounds from one automated menu to the next interspersed with people who didn't seem to know how to help me. Transfers, delays, disconnects, and confusion lasted for over an hour. Finally, my blood pressure was elevated enough that it would have concerned my doctor. My desire was to go to DSL to save time, and I was wasting time trying to sign-up. After redialing the 800 number and getting back into the automatic maze of options, I was put on hold. Then after listening to a voice say to me, "Your call is important to us...", I hung up. My call obviously wasn't important enough to get me connected without a lot of hassle.
Several minutes after hanging up, I was still talking to myself. I was bloody mad- mostly at machines. While a couple of human voices seemed mildly interested in helping me, my rage was directed at technology. In the midst of my muttering about machines, I heard a voice sternly saying to me, "Get a grip, Campbell. Sure, technology can drive you crazy, but you are behind the wheel! Take control."
I sat down to let the voice's message sink in and that gave me time to get my blood pressure and heart rate back to normal. It didn't take me long to realize the obvious, my anger directed at a computer generated answering system wasn't going to get me any where. To make matters even worse, the real voices at the other end of the phone have been trained to deal with angry and irritate callers. They will do what that can or want to do and then write me off as just one of those disgruntled customers. I also realized that my experience with technology isn't unique as I ended the 20th century. In the new millennium, these computer-generated frustrations will only get worse for all of us. Here are several suggestions for getting a grip:
1. Talking to technology doesn't work; you and I aren't technological Dr. Doolittles. While this is obvious, we need to be reminded of this fact for we often forget that we can't talk to the machines of this new millenium or the past. Perhaps, in the next century, we will invent machines that will deal with upset customers and resolve problems, but until then, we need to control our temptation to talk to them.
2. Cool down and take a time out. Each of us needs to monitor our reactions to the tyranny of technological world. Getting ticked off at a machine will cause us to get so out of sorts that when we finally do talk to a person, we will make them angry at our hostile and irate attitude. That person who we have transferred our anger is our only help. Therefore, take a break when things get out of hand.
3. Incorporate your anger and frustration into a letter (or in my case a newspaper column). Write to the company that is the source of aggravation to you. List times and circumstances relating to your problem with communication with them. Remember that they are in business to make money. Poor treatment will only cost them their market share. Wouldn't you want to know that your company was creating an irritatingly poor impression to he public?
4. Appreciate those who facilitate our working with technology. After I cooled off and allowed a day or two to past, I again called trying to get connected. I got quickly to a real person. She introduced herself as Tamara. I recounted to her my litany of woes. I noted that she had a pleasant, calm, and confident voice. I didn't detect any uncertainty in her voice. She knew her job and facilitated the problem-solving process to get me connected. I couldn't believe it. I person who could and did help-finally. What a relief and I told her so. I plan to write to her and her office with a copy of this column. Thanks again, Tamara.
This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on January 6, 2000.