When a customer wants service — as in customer service —
they would like to speak to a human being who understands their concern and can
make sure it’s taken care of or directed to the right person and/or department.
The customers of a large telecommunications company may have any number of
reasons for wanting service, from questions about products to billing, to
troubleshooting equipment, to repair.
But like many other large institutions with many customers,
customer service has been outsourced to cut costs. It's expensive to employ knowledgeable
and competent people to read or listen to other people with all their quirks
and accents. This is why when you call your bank your call is handled by
someone called “Steve” in India. Even this is preferable to finding yourself in
conversation with a voicebot who requires you to state your case clearly and
seeks to assure you it understands by repeating your words back to you.
Increasingly, it’s why when you look online to find the number to call for a
human being you find instead an automated customer service agent.
Verizon employs (as in uses, not pays), one of these.
Anticipating squeamishness about typing questions in a blank type window,
Verizon provides an array of computer-generated avatars from the shoulders up
who actually blink at you as if they are listening. If you don’t like the first
one which pops up you can change it to one you feel more comfortable opening up
to. They offer five to cater to every cultural taste by blending a range of
non-threatening, quasi-professional features and thus look far more like pixels
than people. Their names, too are interestingly generic yet exude a distinctly
Anglo-Saxon air: Amy, Jake, Lisa, Alex or Kate.
You’re invited to type in a question. Not a statement; a question.It’s like playing Jeopardy. “Will the
repairman you promised would arrive three days ago actually turn up or what?”
is not considered a valid question, mostly because it’s too long, but also
because the program cannot interpret anything other than keywords like “Tell me
about high speed internet.” It’s also because the program does not recognize
frustration or sarcasm, unlike actual human beings.
If your phone line is out of order and you would like it to
be fixed (seeing as you’re paying for it and would like to make and receive
calls), the avatar will be of no help to you, because let’s face it: they are
simply sales reps disguised as customer service agents. In that case, Verizon
provides you with a phone number to call. This is useful when your phone is not
functioning. You’d think that a telecommunications company would figure that
one out. But no.
If you borrow a phone and call this number it’s actually a
dead end, much like the customer service avatar. No-one ever picks up. In the
meantime, as you wait hopefully, you get the sensation that you are being subtly
teased by the ringing phone which clearly does work, unlike your own.
So if you can’t write and you can’t call, how on Earth can
you get their attention?
Despite all the avatars in the world, never fall for the
illusion that this is a two-way conversation. They may be programmed to blink
to suggest they can see you, but they can’t hear a damn thing.
Alas, I have had to come to terms with the end of what was
once a beautiful relationship. For many years, cherries and I had an annual
affair filled with passion during which time I devoured as many as I could
before the season turned.
Holding a cherry to your lips, feeling the smooth, tight
skin stretched over the yielding flesh, trembling slightly as it dangled from
its slender stalk, before a tug with the lips pulled it into my mouth. The
first squeeze of teeth releasing a rich squirt of juice. Using the tongue to
extract the pit. Again and again.
But this year I have to admit that the noble cherry, for all
its beauty, has proven to be a lover I have no stomach for. Literally. My human
digestive tract has no means of processing the cellulose which forms their
skin. Let’s just say that the undigested cellulose does not make friends with
my lower abdomen.
The trouble is that otherwise, cherries are really good for
you. Packed full of vitamins A and B, and anthocyanin — the stuff that makes
fruits and vegetables dark in color and which acts as a powerful
anti-inflammatory. The trouble with summer is that there is such a wealth of
delicious fruit that it’s all I want to eat.
Every year I make a mental Note To Self when my belly
becomes so bloated I feel like I could float away: maybe it’s time to end this
affair. Fruit salad — goodbye. Clafloutis – farewell.