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Press 1 for frustration, Press 2 to abandon hope

For better and worse, the “new normal” as some people call life in the 2020s frowns upon face-to-face interaction.

On the better side, a lot of businesses have raised their game substantially at home delivery, automated ordering and seeing that you never have to leave the house. Unfortunately, this has really hampered the mom-and-pop shops that are the lifeblood of small towns. If Amazon was killing small town retail before, these uncertain times shifted the deck even more in Goliath’s favor.

But one of the worse,  most annoying, aspects of the new normal, is the rush to make all communication as impersonal as possible and the fact that it doesn’t work, especially not for anyone who wants to talk with someone.

Companies, both big and small, have jettisoned the receptionist and secretary for the infinite number of automated phone options.

Our calls are not that important if the companies don’t have anyone to answer them. Machines stink at customer service.

This has been particularly frustrating for many people seeking COVID tests/vaccinations to be met with the computer voice and no answers. But, at least the health departments have the excuse of being overwhelmed when a suddenly small staff sees almost every adult in the community calling at once.

There is no excuse for the routine companies who also force us to endure the dreaded recorded message: Press 1 for billing. Press 2 for technical support. Press 3 for a helicopter ride to Mars. (Ok that one was  made up but by the time we get to three or four we’ve already forgotten what we were calling about.)

Other recordings tell us: Please listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed (as though we had them memorized before);

Please continue to hold while we retrieve your... (and our employees sit around, drink coffee and share TikTok videos of people falling down);

Press one for billing and payments (and these seem to get answered more promptly than other calls);

And worse of them all are the systems that dictate you speak slowly, apparently with no accent, so a computer can assist you. 

And when you try to speak your request, things can get hairy. A nice-sounding lady-computer will tell you: “I’m sorry I didn’t quite get that.” Or, even worse: “Go to our website or use the mobile app to check on your request.”

While bodily-threats to a person are illegal, what about threatening well-being of a computer who can’t understand the north Georgian dialect?

In his final interview in office, Commission Chair Rob Jones said he always maintained human receptionists. He recognized it was old-fashioned, but he thought it was tax money well spent to give the public a human voice. We concur wholeheartedly.

Here at the Progress we also believe in old-fashioned phone answering. When you call here, you’ll always get a person - or you won’t get anything at all since we don’t have voicemail. It keeps things simple. And for a small business, we recognize that our bread-and-butter is our readers and advertisers and we hope they know we’ll always answer when they call. 

Our wish for days to return to a non-pandemic will be fulfilled at some point, but it doesn’t seem likely that more, especially bigger, businesses will turn again to humans to answer phones, but we can hope, after all retro is now recognized as a style.