Bob Driver sig (new)

By now, I’m sure you're having trouble reaching human beings by telephone. Oh, sure, your Aunt Nellie can be easily reached. I'm talking about the world of commerce, computers, government and other biggies.

The coming of COVID-19 has made it easier for the biggies to put us mortals on hold when we're trying to ask complex questions, such as "May I speak with anyone at the Sligwitch Corp. who is still employed and alive?"

Each week brings new stalling and diversionary tactics by the big boys. Following are some of the ways they keep us waiting.

1. "Who are you?" The taped voice begins by requiring us to identify ourselves. "Please punch the last four digits of your Social Security number." Or "Please list your ZIP code and your birthdate." The most fashionable interrogations that arrived with COVID are "Is your throat sore? Do you sneeze a lot? Have a high temperature? Are you wearing a mask now, as you speak? If not, why not?" I'm exaggerating, but not much.

2. "Get in line, buster." That's the short version of the more common "Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received." And how long will that be? If you're lucky, the voice machine may give you an estimated wait time, such as "Two days after the next Autumnal Equinox."

3. A listing of the company or store's 20 or 30 main departments. Granted, this can be helpful, but only if someone at the department you're looking for is awake, on duty and near a telephone. Even that's no guarantee, if you call during lunch break.

4. Many answering services will at least give you recorded music while you wait. Unfortunately, the music they select is seldom an entire song. It's more likely to be six measures from the opening screen credits for the movie "You Talkie, Me Walkie," which came out in 1939. A few minutes of that will have you doing the hangie-uppie, which may have been what it was designed to do.

If you could choose a sit-there-and-wait song, what would it be? I'd vote for Carly Simon's "Let the Rivers Run.'' Followed by the closing bars of Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture" and Johnny Cash singing "Sunday Morning Comin' Down."

5. The "Agent" Solution. My internet provider — I'll call it Hypersonic — uses a one-woman's-voice, all-purpose troubleshooting phone tape. Its solution is to list every possible problem that might happen to your computer. All the customer has to do is say which one fits his or her situation. If nothing in your dilemma belongs on that list, the tape lady asks "If you wish, I'll refer you to an agent. Just say 'Agent.'"

I gladly shout AGENT!! The next voice I hear is from someone in Florida, Idaho, Costa Rica, or (most commonly) the Philippines. All of Hypersonic's offshore agents seem well-trained, polite and helpful. No complaints there, except some of these agents still retain a hefty slice of their native accent. That can slow things down.

Before I conclude this M&K (moan and kvetch) litany about taped phone non-conversations, I should inject this: I do understand why many organizations cannot afford to hire a larger number of women and men to staff their phone response systems. Live voices cost money. A well-planned (and frequently updated) tape can solve a high percentage of requests. Perhaps one day robots will handle most of the calls.

But I doubt if there ever will be a more welcome sound than that of a live operator — especially in a moment of crisis — saying to a caller, "Yes, sir (or ma'am) I understand your problem, and I'm on top of it right now. I'll call you back in an hour or less."

If you know persons who hold such a job, please send this Seat to them and let them know they're appreciated. As someone once said, "In a pinch, there ain't nuthin' like a calm voice connected to a smooth-working brain."

Bob Driver's email address is