Thursday, July 30, 2009

Automated phone systems

One of our favorite activities has to be calling a company's customer service line and wading through the ever-helpful automated phone touch-tone system. Let's examine why we so enjoy participating in this ubiquitous corporate cluster-shtoop:

Upon determining what our problem is and what questions we need answered, we dial 1-800-SCREW-ME or whatever cutesy vanity number the corporation in question has chosen. A couple of exceptions would be ITunes and EBay, which have shrouded their customer "service" departments in such secrecy, that not even the CIA could uncover a working phone number to either of these upstanding entities. Maybe a blessing in disguise?

The first thing we encounter along our telephonic journey is an unusually well-spoken voice, likely resembling that of Donald Sutherland, informing us that we have a choice of listening to options in English or Spanish. So far, reasonable and pretty clear-cut.

Next, Donald informs us that we are about to hear approximately 572 options, and that we can slit our wrists at any time during this call. I know what you're all thinking at this point - I'll just press the appropriate number as soon as I hear the option that best fits my situation. Just hold the phone a minute (pardon that really lame pun)...this is where Donald so helpfully admonishes us that we must listen carefully to ALL of the options, as some may have recently changed. Is there an automated phone system in the known universe that does not feature options that have recently changed? When exactly are these companies going to solidify all of their customer service options and leave the damn phone system as-is? Is there one person in each company whose job it is to review all 572 options every single day and randomly change those which seem not to fit any longer?

Once you have finally ascertained the appropriate option and excitedly punched the corresponding number (or series of numbers if your option is #512), father Sutherland comes back on the line to instruct you further. It's at this point that you are required to enter approximately 5,000 different pieces of personal information...of course so the evasive customer service representative can "better assist you." So, naturally, you must enter your phone number, social security number, numbers corresponding to your mother's maiden name, company account number, current home address, date of birth, and so on. You may even be asked to go down to the local Kinko's and fax a copy of your pet dog's latest immunization records. If you don't have a pet dog, you may have to stop at a pet store...don't worry, it's usually in the same shopping center as Kinko's. But then of course, you need to find a veterinarian's office nearby to get the pesky little thing immunized.

Once you've returned home with Rover, you pick up the phone again and press the # button to continue. This is when Donald informs you that you should remain on the line as all of the customer service representatives are currently assisting other callers. Sure they are. They're not on Facebook or in the midst of a heated online poker game. This message will also be repeated around 789 times just in case you've forgotten how busy everyone is. Rest assured, your call is VERY important to them. In fact, everything is fine, because Donald knows approximately how long your estimated wait time will be. How accurate are these estimations? Let's just say that if this were that mountain climber game on The Price is Right, that little bugger would go sailing over that cliff faster than you can blink your eyes. My estimated wait time is FIVE MINUTES? Right. Is that in dog years? Maybe that's why they needed to verify that you, in fact, have a pet dog, so you'll have a full understanding of the situation.

You may be frustrated by now, but it's OK. The corporate entity that is neither ITunes nor EBay has carefully selected a pleasant musical arrangement to entertain you while you wait. It's likely "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John, as interpreted by the National Pan Flute Orchestra of Myanmar, with accompaniment by Yanni. This is, of course, my favorite version of this song.

OK, so after being on hold for several days and having meticulously mapped out a Yanni assassination plot, you finally hear a joyous ringing, shortly followed by an actual human voice! "Hello, this is Xdugxzrlm, how can I assist you today?" Your excitement is quickly tempered by the realization that this person is not from your country, or even your planet, but is actually calling from a telephone control center located in the distant galaxy of Voltoon. No problem, you simply whip out your Voltoonese-to-English dictionary and follow along, all the while wondering why Donald couldn't just stay on the line and help you. It's now that Xdugxzrlm asks you to repeat all the personal information that you had previously entered into the automated system. (What does a fax to Voltoon cost, you wonder.) OK...back from Kinko's again. Now, if you've somehow angered God recently, comes the part where you may be inclined to slit your wrists, if you've made it this far. Xdugxzrlm sincerely wants to help you, but he(?) regretfully informs you that, as he is in the Completely Useless and Helpless Department, he will not be able to sufficiently resolve your particular problem. This of course, falls under the jurisdiction of the Giant Vacuum of Nonexistence Department, to which Xdugxzrlm will so helpfully transfer you. Yes, the DREADED transfer. We all know where these phone calls then go. But wait, Xdugxzrlm is on the ball today! He(?) astutely thinks to give you the direct line to the GVN Dept., just "in case" you get disconnected. Nevermind the fact that this number consists of only 5 digits, some of which you may not recognize from any alpha-numeric system on Earth.

Next: "CLICK." Two seconds later, your phone spontaneously combusts. But no worries, as you can take comfort in knowing that you've by now likely forgotten all about the fact that your most recent ITunes purchase did not download correctly. So that's one problem you won't have to tackle today.

Moral of the story: Thank God we don't have those stupid rotary dial phones any more!

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's Official: Daughtry is Awesome

My days of buying full albums, like millions of other music fans, have long since past. Occasionally, there will be a gem that is worth popping the $10-$14 for, but for the most part, CDs have always contained 3-7 tracks that warrant repeated listening. It's only now with digital downloading that we have the option of purchasing only those 3-7 songs. Hey, if an album has 7 great songs, then I consider it a really solid work, but it's still not going to convince me to spend $12 as opposed to $7. So, these days, a CD has to be pretty much flawless to warrant picking up the whole shebang. Enter, Chris Daughtry, American Idol finalist and bald dude extraordinaire (I seem to have an unintentional affinity for the music of bald guys - the psychoanalysts can determine what this says about me). I purchased 6 tracks from Daughtry's debut album back in early '07. All of those songs were amazing, but still, there were some throwaway songs on the CD (not counting lead single "It's Not Over," which I like, but simply do not need to ever hear again). With his 2nd offering, "Leave This Town" coming up for release, I was expecting a letdown. Typically when an album hooks me on an artist, it's not unusual for the next album to suck. I was able to listen to the full pre-release on and was pleasantly surprised. Dare you to find a below-average song on this thing. Yeah, a lot of Daughtry's songs sound similar, but that's the case with many, many artists. The key is to have a penchant for melody, keep the energy level consistent and not get all experimental on our asses. The new Daughtry CD, now out, simply rocks from start to finish. Well worth the $10 (pretty cheap!) for the full CD on ITunes (sans bonus tracks). In a move that can only be explained using Apple logic, ITunes offers the deluxe album for $13 (a $3 difference, for those of you scoring at home), which does include the two additional songs...however, if you purchase them individually, they're $1.29 each = $2.58. OK, so they also throw in the video for lead single, "No Surprise," but honestly people, you can watch videos for free on Youtube. So yeah, Daughtry rocks...Apple - not so much.