Automated Phone Systems: Customer Survival Kits

survival kit

At least once a day it seems that I am placed in some personal or professional situation that requires me to contact a company, or worse yet, a government agency, by phone. We all know the drill. It starts with an automated voice…

There are two automated voice options: the female yoga instructor, who speaks in a tone generally reserved for conversations with folks wearing white jackets with really long sleeves, and the male game show announcer, who makes it seem as though you might be about to win something. The pretend-person assures you that “your call is very important” then promptly begins the automated sorting process…

“Press 1 for _____”, “Press 2 for ____”, “Press 3 for ___”. As the pretend-person is describing 4, I am already beginning to forget 1 and 2. I start trying to push “0” which once offered a solution by putting you through to an operator, but the super-smart pretend-person is no longer so easily put aside. New automated phone systems immediately chastise impatient customers who think they can avoid hearing the gazillion options for number pressing…

“I am sorry. The number you have selected is not an option,” says the pretend person. But he/she/it is not sorry. In fact, the pretend-person is pissed off that you are trying to jump the queue and will punish you by beginning the entire “Press 1 for ___” spiel again. If he/she/it is really incensed (which can happen when you push “0” over and over again, praying for rescue), you may find yourself disconnected; abandoned with nothing but a ringing noise in your ears that could be dial tone or the pre-cursor to an anxiety attack.

I no longer stress myself out by trying to pick the right number when playing the automated phone system game. I just go with “2” because it’s my favourite number and let’s face it, we all know that every choice leads to the same cruel fate…

All of our customer service representatives are busy speaking with other clients right now…” Are they really? I picture a bunch of guys sitting around a poker table, faces obscured by swirls of cigar smoke, anonymous bodies shaking with laughter as the pretend-voices drone on in the background. (I tend to become delusional a few minutes into automated phone system situations).

At this point, you may be offered a choice: wait on hold or leave a call back number. Do not be fooled. This is not a real choice. I am sure the second option was invented by a 20-something guy who was well-versed in the whole “yah baby… of course I will call you…. just leave me your number” charade. Trust me… the phone will not ring. And if it does, it will not be a 20-something guy on the other end… it will just be the pretend-person repeating the same “Press 1 for ___” options.

You must be strong and stay on hold. I know it is hard. The system will try to wear you down with repeated renditions of the muzak version of “Lady in Red”, and the pretend-person will taunt you with endlesss reminders that “all of our customer service representatives are busy speaking with other clients right now.” At some point, you may have to pee… hold it! You may become tired… do not close your eyes! Because if you just keep it together and endure, eventually (3-5 “Lady in Red” renditions and 12+ taunting auto-reminders later), you will get a real person…

This person will be of absolutely no assistance to you but he or she will silently listen to your query/complaint until you have run out of words and passion. Then (and only then) will they tell you that they are “only an operator” and put you back on hold while you are theoretically “transferred” to the correct department. Yep… you will be sent back to purgatory’s waiting room for another rendition (or 12) of “Lady in Red” …

This is why I have put together an Automated Phone System Survival Kit for Women (patent pending). The basic kit includes:

  • A water bottle (for hydration… and you can pee in it later if you become desperate)
  • A bottle of Advil
  • A mid-price-range pinot grigio (it seems a shame to waste the good stuff on a non-social encounter)
  • A high-quality skin cream (because you will definitely have time to properly moisturize every part of your body)
  • Manicure/pedicure equipment: emery boards, polish, top coat (note: mani-pedi should be performed before wine drinking)

I envision an eventual expansion of kit options to address the needs of other phone system warriors. For instance:

  • The Man Kit (replace wine with beer and swap out mani/pedi supplies for a small mirror and one of those battery-powered things that pulls out nose and ear hairs)
  • The College Student Kit (replace wine with tiny, pre-packaged jello shots. Leave in the rest of the stuff because in the younger generation, both genders appreciate soft skin and well-cared-for cuticles)
  • The New Mom Kit (fill the entire kit with just Advil and wine because really… those are the two essentials for women with young children)

Of course, I will require an automated phone system to help my Customer Survival Kit company respond to customer inquiries. I can hear it now (I will go with the yoga voice!)… “Press 1 for product information…”, “Press 2 for technical support”,…

Author: Kim Scaravelli

Kim Scaravelli is an entrepreneur, marketer, content consultant, and author of “Making Words Work”. The best way to keep in touch is to subscribe to Kim’s popular newsletter. Every second Wednesday, she shares practical writing tips, timely insights, and resources to make your work easier and your content better. To learn more about Kim, visit her website.

7 thoughts

  1. I use a wireless phone and put it on speaker. Then I on with your life, occasionally pressing a button as needed. Try to save my rage for when I get a live person (should I be so lucky) on the line. I ALWAYS start the conversation by getting the person’s name and identification number or whatever, so when he/she disconnects me, I know who to blame. Oh, and it’s always a good idea to take a few powerful tranquilizers. You will need them.


    1. All very good tips! I also use speaker phone but I find that they keep you pushing the buttons so often that you are still stuck carting the phone around like an albatross… although at least you don’t have to strain your neck muscles by perching it between ear and shoulder! And I believe the pinot grigio is my tranquilizer of choice… it goes so much better with cheese than a pill does!


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