Magazine article Medical Economics

From the Editor: "Your Call Is Important to Us" and Other Lies

Magazine article Medical Economics

From the Editor: "Your Call Is Important to Us" and Other Lies

Article excerpt

I pick up the phone to call Cablevision and question a mysterious charge on my monthly bill.

"Thank you for calling Cablevision. Your call may be monitored to ensure the quality of our service. To continue in English, press 1.'

I dutifully press 1. Then: "For Cable TV, press 1.'

I dutifully press 1 again, but instead of getting a friendly customer service representative, I get this automated drivel: Are you ready for some new blood? The new warriors of WCW [World Championship Wrestling] ignite in WCW's `New Blood Rising.' Sunday, Aug. 13, live at 8 pm. If you would like to order New Blood Rising' for $29.95, press 1 now."

There's new blood rising, all right, but it's my own.

Phone rage is building everywhere, and not all of it is aimed at telemarketers and obnoxious cell phone users. Some of this anger may also be heading your way. As our practice re-engineering story on page 77 points out, patients are tired of hearing the all-too-familiar refrain, "Doctor's office, can you hold?" Frankly, no, they can't-or won't.

Feeding this frustration is the realization that what we want from a phone-the ability to talk with another human being-so often isn't what we get. Instead, we get to listen to an artificial, unresponsive voice.

The mechanical voice tells us that our call is important, but in the meantime, it banishes us to Muzak Purgatory or Sales Pitch Hell. Some machines now tell us how long we must wait to talk to a live person. (My colleague, Jeff Burger, once waited patiently for 20 minutes, only to be told by the machine that the offices had just closed for the day.) And the ever-so-helpful machines prod us when we don't enter the needed information fast enough.

We've come such a long way since the very first phone call (1876): "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.' Isn't it ironic that the first words uttered over the telephone-- a device designed to facilitate communication over distances-were a request to drop the phone and meet face to face? …

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