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Press 1 to Give Up

Without taking any formal polls, I estimate that 99% of the world hates automated answering systems.

There's a dark, dank office in the lower basement of a ramshackle castle atop a spindly hill, in which sits a hunchbacked hermit who rubs his calloused hands with evil glee as he codes telephone-menu software. Once in a while, when the crashing thunder shakes the windows from their hinges and the lightning rips through the eerie night sky, you may hear a prolonged, maniacal laugh echo through the deep, desolate valleys as he releases the next version to production.
But we forgive companies because we think that there isn't much of an alternative - it's a busy call center and they have to manage all of the incoming calls somehow, right?

I recently read an article about how companies use a special algorithm to determine if it is worthwhile to answer your phone call or not. The software calculates whether there are others in the queue who are likely to spend more money than you. Less desirable customers are pushed aside in favor of the bigger spenders.

Rafi Karp, Director of Operations at Glassfish (, a company that helps businesses to increase sales by improving customer service, believes that this system is a PR disaster waiting to happen:
There could be indirect negative effects on their business if it gets out that a company is profiling customers with an algorithm - the average consumer will feel belittled and unimportant and ultimately have negative associations with the company, possibly causing them to switch to a new supplier. A company that champions the consumer, regardless of who they are, is going to ultimately build a better customer reputation as a service provider. This reputation, as extensive research has proven, is one of the most valuable assets to a company.
Put simply, automated telephone answering systems (especially sneaky ones) are the least customer-friendly way to do business because they take existing customers and make them hate the company.

Of course, the average consumer doesn't know that he has been rated, ranked and relegated to the end of the queue. He is left hanging on the line, sentenced to endless repetitive elevator music, advertisements and pleas to hang up and use the Internet. When he finally does get through, his patience and energy have been sufficiently depleted so as to weaken his defenses.

The company wins, again.


  1. Sometimes, automated call answering can seem downright pernicious. This fellow has a rather crass style of writing, but if you can get beyond that, he does have some keen insights.

    1. Wow, that's one angry man...but he does make a good point.


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