By Froma Harrop
I’m a well-trained child of the human-less world of customer “support.” I don’t ask for much. When I need an answer, I first check the FAQs (frequently asked questions). I visit forums to find others discussing similar problems and sometimes offering good advice.
But every now and then, I have a problem or question for which only an informed human can help. When that happens, I want a human. I demand a human. And I don’t think I should have to roll on the floor, kicking and screaming for a human.
Let me share a recent frustrating experience, typical of what one finds when a problem doesn’t fit neatly into the computer’s multiple choices and answers cannot be found online. I had ordered cable/phone/Internet service from Verizon. The email confirmation told me the installer would arrive in the 8 a.m.-to-noon time slot. If you can’t make this appointment, it said, call this number.
My apartment building doesn’t open for deliveries or service calls until 9 a.m., so I punched in the phone number. Of course, I was sent to the automated-call dungeon from which it took almost an hour to emerge (or it seemed like an hour). The options were to confirm the appointment or reschedule for another date. But I didn’t want to reschedule for another date. I just wanted Verizon to slightly adjust the time slot to begin at 9 a.m. After about a half-hour going through the irrelevant, recorded choices, I was offered an opportunity to wait in a long telephonic line for a human being. When a man finally answered, I understood the audacity of my request.
He started off that rules are rules. I explained that I would move heaven and earth to accommodate Verizon but couldn’t move the building to open early. (The afternoon slot went past the closing time.) Sighing deeply, the man said that to alter the installation time slot, he’d have to obtain the approval of his supervisor at Verizon. I’ll be rooting for you, I said.
I had considered other avenues for communication. My Verizon home page showed a link for online chat with a human being. Upon clicking it, I was told chat is no longer available. Forget about communicating by e-mail. The address must be a state secret written in code. No phone number.
But there was “Frank,” Verizon’s customer help guy, actually a cartoon that blinks. I once typed in a question about whether I could operate the TV with one remote instead of two. Frank answered, and I quote: “For information about Regular Programming please: Select a Frequently Asked Question below that others have found helpful. Rephrase your question, being as specific as possible. Review our online forums.”
The forums are where folks ask questions and other consumers respond with 12-step “fixes” that often don’t work. My question: Why could I get wireless Internet on my iPad but not my desktop? No answer on my thread, but I found a priceless piece of information on another forum: the phone number of a Verizon technician.
Where was Verizon hiding this magnificent human being??? With my permission, he commandeered my computer and fixed the problem in five minutes. What was the problem? Oh, these things happen, he explained.
I don’t mean to single out one company. Others selling complex gadgets to millions of consumers hide their three support people in deep caves. When Verizon favored me with some of the technician’s time, it restored my faith in humanity while underscoring the need for humanity.
Understood: No one wants to employ humans these days. But as long as the customers are human, companies ought to hire a few.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is email@example.com