A descent into voicemail hell

Yesterday, we followed along as Davis attempted to close a dormant health savings account and stop quarterly statements from being mailed to his home. First, he tried going to the HSA website and met with nothing but frustration. Today, in search of even more exasperation, he attempts to negotiate with voicemail and offshore customer service reps. We join him now as he makes the call to the toll-free help line.

I was greeted by that pre-recorded woman’s voice we’ve all come to know and hate. She mixes a tone of delight, casualness and enthusiasm that lets you know right away she’s not a real person. She welcomed me to the “Solution Contact Center” (SCC) and ran through the options she thought I might want to select from: I could press one for account information, two for frequently asked questions, three if I was an employer, four if I was a broker, five if I was not yet an account holder, and six if I wanted marketing support. Already, I longed for an option seven, which would send a high-pitched screeching tone into an SCC operator’s ear.

None of the six choices seemed quite right for what I wanted to do, so I tried pressing zero. Sometimes this gets you directly to a live customer service representative.

“We’re sorry but your menu selection is not available,” the fake woman said patiently. “For more information, you can visit our website at HSAmember.com.”

Yeah, well I already tried that and it didn’t work. Why do you think I’m calling you?

I listened to the menu options again and figured number one, account information, would be my best bet. I was informed that due to the current load of callers, it would be five minutes before I could talk to someone. I was encouraged to stay on the line, because calls would be answered in the order they were received, if at all. The “hold music” began — at first, a thumping bass that seemed more appropriate as house music at a gay disco, then quickly replaced by a tune that could only be described as “lilting”.

I settled in for what I hoped would be a short wait, playing the game I always play in similar situations — trying to write lyrics for that gentle instrumental designed by psychologists to soothe the angry customer.

A real human being will be with you soon
If you’re lucky at all, it’ll be before noon
Try to relax as you sit there and wait
Do a sudoku, don’t ponder your fate

Within about 90 seconds, the music paused and my heart leapt at the prospect of being served.

“Your call is important to us,” said a new woman’s voice.

“Well, that’s good to know,” I said. “I just have a question about how I can stop getting –”

“Please continue to hold,” I was interrupted. “A representative will be with you shortly.”

And a return to the hold music. I tried to relax, imagining a green meadow, a cloudless sky, gentle breezes, perhaps a fawn and its mother romping in the distance. My thoughts slowly turned away from my worldly problems, and I was transported to another place in time, a soothing, idyllic setting where insurance and healthcare and service charges didn’t exist, a place where a pair of white-tailed deer could halt the mailing of unwanted statements to my home with a magical twitch of their noses.

The music paused again, and I was jolted out of my repose. “Thank you for holding. We look forward to talking with you soon. Please hold the line and we’ll be right back with you.”

These slightly different, alternating messages of unfulfilled encouragement continued on and off for at least ten minutes. Around the sixth or seventh time, the woman’s voice was replaced by a man’s, which I gathered to be an attempt to establish some higher level of authority, lest the caller was becoming agitated with the nice lady. Once he had re-established who was in charge here, the man’s voice left and the woman’s voice returned for several more pre-recorded assurances that they’d get to me whenever the hell they felt like it.

I was fully prepared to ignore the guy as just another pre-recorded voice when “George” finally came on the line. He was as much of a “George” as I am a “Harish,” but I wasn’t about to let any cultural preconceptions interfere with my glee at finally talking to a real human, even if he was oceans away and reading from answer tree while dreaming of the day his country would take its rightful place in the world, deposing those lazy Americans and their petty annoyances to the scrap heap of history.

“For security purposes, can you verify your address for me?” he asked in an accent-free voice.

I read off my address, then proceeded to tell me tale of woe, how I had closed the account and didn’t care about the lousy $2.69 and didn’t want to get any more paper statements because of the 25-cent service charge and — oh, yeah — I cared about the environment too.

“Do you still have the checkbook?” he asked. “You could write yourself a check.”

“I probably have it somewhere but it would take forever for me to find it,” I answered.

During the brief pause that followed, I could sense him thinking about my embarrassment of plenty and being disgusted by it. Not only did I have $2.69 that I didn’t care about — probably enough to feed his entire family for a year — but I had mounds and mounds of paper records documenting my (comparatively) enormous wealth. It was too much trouble for the decadent American to exert himself a little.

“I think I’ll join al-Qaeda,” is what he thought of responding, but instead came up with exactly the offer I was hoping for: “Can we zero out your balance?”

“Yes,” I answered. “And that will also stop the statements from coming?”

“It will take one billing cycle for that to happen,” he said.

“Wonderful,” I responded. “Thank you so much.”

“Can we help you with anything else at all today?” he asked. I thought of mentioning I was having some trouble with the transmission in my car, and that I needed someone to fix a warped board on my back deck, but decided he had helped enough already. Then, oddly, he asked me to do something for him.

“Do you have a moment to take our automated survey?”

“If I have to press one for English, two if I want Spanish and three if I want Hindi, I don’t think I’ll have time for that today,” I thought of responding, but left him instead with a “No, thanks.”

Now, all I have to do is sit back, wait for about 100 days, and hope that I haven’t killed any more trees.


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One Response to “A descent into voicemail hell”

  1. LetUsAllUsPlayDominoes Says:

    Davis, they are ALL trying to drive us crazy, and sometimes they succeed.

    But for a little perspective, consider this: ALL human endeavors, both benign and malignant, from the building of skyscrapers and moon landers to the writing of poetry and yes-the hiring of Indian customer service reps-are designed to distract us from the inescapable fact that someday, SOMEDAY-you and me and Molly McGee just ain’t gonna be here any more.

    (Note to the parsers of language: of course, the incorrect usage of the word ‘me’ in the last sentence was done for the sake of the rhyme scheme.)

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