Robots, I am tired of talking to you! | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Mountain View Online |

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Robots, I am tired of talking to you!

Uploaded: Mar 29, 2023
Yes, I am talking to you robots, whose companies hire you, to supposedly guide me through a telephone tree to get to a live person to make an appointment or get some information. Hiring robots helps these companies because they can hire fewer employees. But it certainly does not help me.

When I talk to you, Mr. (or Ms.) Robot, you want me to do things your way – in a series of defined steps, and disregard what I want you to do.

For example, Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), I call to talk to a nurse to see if a substitute prescription has been found. When the female robot answers, I ask for the Internal Medicine Department. She tells me there are several: Mountain View, Palo Alto… I shout out “Palo Alto” and she continues going down her list San Jose, Fremont, Sunnyvale. I repeat “Palo Alto” but she says she doesn’t understand and sends me to their operator. I’ve learned to say Internal Medicine, Palo Alto in one breath and that works. Victory!

Yesterday, I called United Healthcare to check on my insurance payment. After six rings, a male robot answered then sent me to their telephone tree – which did not contain “billing.” I pressed repeat. A voice answered and asked me for my name and birth date. I asked for customer representative and transferred ne. Their phone rang; I was put on hold, and waited and waited. “Thank you for your patience,” the robot said to me. Then after a lapse of a couple more minutes, the voice thanks me again, telling me “Your call is very important to us.” (If it’s so important, then why aren’t you answering the damn phone!” I thought.) The next robot voice told me a customer representative will soon be with me.

A real live woman answered and when I asked her about a payment, she found me in their files but said my insurance was part of a group plan.” I will transfer you there, and if we get disconnected, here is their number.” Aha, she knew the fallacies of their phone system.

A new male robot answered n four minutes and asked for my name and social security number. Hmm, one robot wanted my birth date and the next my social security number? That’s concerning because I don’t like to give that out. The robot didn’t understand what I was complaining about.

I finally got to a live man; he found my file, and said I owed $787.97 for my insurance for the rest of the year. I paid it. Total telephone time: 53 minutes. I’m taking delight now in timing all these calls.

And speaking of holding on the phone, a month ago I called a dermatology office at 3:15 p.m. on a Friday. The telephone rang 27 times and no one answered. I’ve had long waits before for someone in a department to answer. I finally surmised that the probably office had closed early the day. Duh.

Another problem: Some calls seem to accidentally(?) get disconnected. I called Ravenswood Medical Clinic for information for a friend, and after waiting 15 minutes, someone picked up the phone, then I heard a click. I was disconnected. That happened twice.

Sometimes some robots just don’t understand: They would to ask me something, and I would answer “yes,” and the robot could not understand my answer. “Yes,” I repeated, but I was sent to their operator. Why can’t the robot understand “yes? Those areal operators got things right. There’s a lesson there.

Then I called Palo Alto City Hall and hit a tall telephone tree. I wanted to ask about gas powered leaf blowers. I pressed “5” for Public Works and got a second telephone tree, with further options. A robot finally answered and told me, “No one is here to take your call right now, but you can leave a message.” I did. I never heard back that day.

My experiences go on and on. I asked my husband if he has the same robot problem, and if it happens often. “Often? Well, most of the time. Guess that’s often.” He’s a gentler type and doesn’t want to throw the -phone across the room like I do when I get exasperated. I found a better option to tossing a phone. I eat a chocolate candy to ease my frustration.

So , robots, what are you going to do to help us people, the ones you talk to all the time.? Maybe report the problems to your person boss? Bet they didn’t train you for that. Tell your boss you can’t understand people? Well, your boss won’t like that because he will think understanding is your job. I agree with him

Should we complain to the robot’s boss? Yes, if you can get on the telephone tree and track him down. Good luck! You’ll need it.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Bob Quinn, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 7:56 am

Bob Quinn is a registered user.

Robotic phone answering and call screening was implemented as a cost-savings measure (in theory) to free regular employees from having to answer the phones directly thus enabling them (in theory) to be more productive at the workplace.

The robotic call response often forces callers to run through a series of hoops and irrelevant questions until it finally offers an opportunity to 'speak with a live agent' but this option can become further aggravating especially if the call center is located abroad and the customer service rep is not fully versed in the English language.

Very few major businesses and large agencies answer their phones directly anymore and the robots will often place callers in a queue hoping they will eventually hang-up after growing tired of being placed on hold and subjected to mundane elevator-themed music.

Posted by Marianne Scott, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 8:34 am

Marianne Scott is a registered user.

Robotic phone answering is just another example of the dehumanization of our everyday lives and many of us do the same but on a smaller scale by utilizing voice mail to call screen instead of directly answering our landlines and cell phones.

The proliferation of SPAM texts, calls, and emails is another nuisance and best served by letting embedded robotics in our electronic devices screen and dispose of them accordingly.

Posted by Tristan Montoya, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 9:36 am

Tristan Montoya is a registered user.

Not to advancements in AI (artificial intelligence) become more prevalent, these robotic answering systems will become more human-like and there may never be a need to talk with an actual human being again when it comes to phone inquiries.

We are already experiencing this advanced feature to a certain extent with Siri (Apple) & Google Assistant (Android).

As a Millennial, I am looking forward to the day when human interaction is reduced to the lowest common denominator because most people do not have anything important to convey other than their own petty concerns and neurosis. Discussing these kinds of problems and issues are best left to a psychologist or psychiatrist providing the shrink has his/her own together.

Posted by Tristan Montoya, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 9:39 am

Tristan Montoya is a registered user.

"Discussing these kinds of problems and issues are best left to a psychologist or psychiatrist providing the shrink has his/her own [life] together".

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 10:03 am

Bystander is a registered user.

An acquaintance of mine, back in the day, worked on the phones for a large company. His main gripe was answering the same questions multiple times a day from people who could have looked up in the phone book or the website, address, cross street, hours open, closure on holiday, etc. etc. When the company eventually started using a phone tree the number of calls each day dramatically decreased as people found other places to find the required information.

The reason I say this is because we were the problem with why these things were inventd in the first place. If an advertisement in the yellow pages, or the website, was too cumbersome for some people to use, then making a call was much easier but not necessarily quicker. My friend's job was designed for legitimate inquiries, but since he spent most of his time repeating the same information that was on the yellow pages advertisement, he was an overpaid robot of sorts. Can't really blame the companies when it is the consumers who caused this to happen in the first place.

Of course, I hate robots too and have similar gripes as everyone else. Government departments seem to be the worst as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by John Charles, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 10:10 am

John Charles is a registered user.

This a great article.

Posted by SpeakEasy, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 10:39 am

SpeakEasy is a registered user.

Consider purchasing a Google Pixel Android phone. They have a feature called 'Hold for Me' which cuts out the mindless elevator music and notifies you when the other party (an actual customer service rep) finally picks up their phone to speak with you.

This feature allows one to go back to doing whatever they are/were doing on their phone (sending/reading emails, playing games, surfing the net etc.).

Posted by Online Name, a resident of University South,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 11:56 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Diana Diamond, I think you always make good sense. Some places never let you get to a human and their robots really can't respond correctly to your problems. It is beyond irritating. Companies that care about your business should get you to a real person quickly. Question tree should be brief. If it doesn't cover what you need, then provide the option to get to a real person!!!

Posted by GranmaKK, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 12:27 pm

GranmaKK is a registered user.

Amen to your points, Diane Diamond!

Posted by ndn, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 1:29 pm

ndn is a registered user.

Actually, this article is mostly about nowadays PAMF, not robots. I moved my medical needs to Stanford and I have nary a complain about their phone attending system.
I agree, however, that the article rings bells many times over. Can we pay more to have real live people on the phone?

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 30, 2023 at 4:43 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Amen! I got rid of my land line telephone service a couple months that helped a lot. But I still had other issues that needed help from living/breathing human beings. I've tried dealing with this online or through cellphone conversations with IT experts. It involved lots of waiting, even with the convenience of the 'call back' option. Today I gave it the personal touch and I met some wonderful people working in a bank and in two downtown stores. I drove to Citibank in Mt. View and downtown Palo Alto to the Apple Store and then to Verizon to resolve several issues. It probably didn't take more time than if I had waited for all the callbacks and fragmented information I'd have gotten otherwise, online or on the phone. The good part is that I met very friendly people who helped me. When I looked in their eyes and talked with them I wondered about their backgrounds, their heritage, and their daily life routines, their joys and struggles. I think I would feel comfortable hugging those people. Sorry, R2D2, you're just so cold and unemotional that I could never bring myself to hugging you, and I'm sure you'd never appreciate or enjoy my hugs anyway.

Posted by Virginia Smedberg, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 31, 2023 at 12:10 am

Virginia Smedberg is a registered user.

Gayle, thank you for reminding us how good it is to have live, face to face in person communication. Granted it's not practical for all our bits of business, but for the places you went I'll bet it took way less than phone or online queues! My only other comment is that I think R2D2 is cute enuf to hug - but not so sure about C3PO.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Mar 31, 2023 at 3:43 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Another amen. Sutter/PAMF is one of the worst offenders. You miss a call from them and try to return it to the direct number you were given but are instead directed to a general number and then caught in endless loop. If you try to call another location like Los Altos instead of Palo Alto, you can't unless you already have a doctor there -- as I learned when I was trying to reach a possible new doctor after mine left and who was supposed to have openings according to the web site.

When they explained to me why I couldn't call be connected to the number shown, they told me to keep checking their erroneous web site. Finally in frustration I demanded to know HOW I could reach Los Altos at the number shown and they told me to have someone on my former doctor's staff call.

Posted by Melanie Prentiss, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Apr 1, 2023 at 7:17 am

Melanie Prentiss is a registered user.

A tip to the initiated...when being held captive to a robotic answering service, simply respond with gibberish or reply sans a direct yes/no answer and extrapolate on a non-related issue.

The robotics will get confused and after 2-3 failed responses, it will direct you to a 'live customer service representative.'

Do it even if the opening message says 'this conversation may be recorded to ensure better customer service.'

Don't waste time listening and responding to recorded nonsense.

They just want you to go away.

Posted by MyFeelz, a resident of another community,
on Apr 5, 2023 at 10:00 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

For all those who have difficulty with the PAMF robot, there is relief. No matter who at PAMF may have called you, and no matter what number they told you to call back, do this: PAMF has a directory of all of their clinics and locations. You can pick one up at any reception desk. If ENT from San Carlos called you, look it up on the teal printed sheet. If neurosurgery in PA called, look it up on the sheet. There will still be a robot, but remain silent and eventually someone "live" will answer. My vocal cords like the printout rather than yelling at a faceless non-entity.

Posted by cid , a resident of another community,
on Apr 5, 2023 at 12:09 pm

cid is a registered user.

When I call Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City, I can usually get to a live human fairly quickly. Their monthly premium for KP Senior Advantage is $84 bucks. I think it's the best I can do for decent Healthcare, with low Co-pays.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 5, 2023 at 12:11 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@ MyFeelz, thanks. Might be worth a shot although one would think that calling the number of a doctor's business card would go directly to that number, but no. Also, note that none of the many PAMF folks I spoke with when trying to find a new physician and complained about the phone problems ever mentioned it.

Posted by cid , a resident of another community,
on Apr 5, 2023 at 12:20 pm

cid is a registered user.

I detest being in "Voice-mail Jail' and usually start quietly asking for a "Live Human" or "Representative" or "Customer Service" but if the robot starts repeating their "routine response" asking the same questions or telling me my balance or whatever, then I get pretty upset, and start yelling, so eventually it says "I can't understand you" ...."Let me connect you to someone who can HELP you."
"Yeah, what they said"....

Posted by Justin Geharty, a resident of Mountain View,
on Apr 6, 2023 at 7:35 am

Justin Geharty is a registered user.

I have a friend who talks to Siri whenever he's lonely. I have tried to tell him that Siri is not a real person (or a woman) but it seems to make no difference to him.

Apparently some Millennial guys are very lonely and trying to reach out to someone.

Posted by Fritzie Blue, a resident of Stanford,
on Apr 14, 2023 at 3:11 am

Fritzie Blue is a registered user.

We pay more for everything and receive less and less. There are a couple bright lights: Macy's Customer Service. The (human) reps all seem to be based in The Philippines, and those I've spoken to were very pleasant and friendly. One even phoned me back a couple weeks after I'd called to see if the issue had been resolved. Unheard of!

Instacart also has wonderful Customer Service reps, all based in South Africa. They are so calm and polite, with beautiful voices. The robots you mention should take a lesson from these lovely people. And yes, chocolate helps.

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