Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Automated Voice Madness: The Day I Disconnected

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Today I talked to Mechanical Lady. This Mechanical Lady was new to me. Oh yes, I've talked to her kin folks both male and female over the years. Most times, I end up frustrated and mad. Today's Mechanical Lady was even a bit tricky.

I called to cancel a magazine subscription I didn't authorize and Mechanical Lady answered. Instead of giving me the option to cancel and get a refund, she said, "Today is your lucky day! You have qualified to receive our magazine for only $5 a year."

That's good news because they charged me $33 to renew.

She continued, "Will you give me approval to refund your money and sign you up for the new subscription to the same magazine for $5?"

I stammered, "Refund only."

"Pardon," she said back.

She patiently repeated the question and I couldn't decide what to do. Saying no might mean starting this conversation from scratch. (If you read the article below, you'll see why I was a bit leery of repeated calling to get my task accomplished.) And I had no intention of saying yes!

So, I did the only thing I could.

I said, "No."

"Hmmmmm," she said. "Well, okay," trying to sound more human. "I have another offer. What if I refund your money and then give you a $5 subscription to a sister magazine. Yes?"

In the end, I was promised almost 100% back. There was some $1.50 processing fee. And I have no new subscription. After our transaction ended, Mechanical Lady kept talking..."I have another offer for you."

I hung up.

A fews years back, I wrote a story about a similar experience. If you want a good laugh, keep reading. Would LOVE to hear your automated madness stories. I bet there are some good ones out there.

“All right,” says Mechanical Man in a cheery halting voice. “To get started please say or enter the number you are talking about.”

I say my number.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. Please….” I repeat the number. We do it a third time.

Then I punch in the numbers.

“Tell me the purpose of your call in a few words. Like I need to change my phone service. Or I want new phone service.”

“Change order.”

“Would you like to cancel, change or review your order?”


“I’m sorry first you must pay your overdue bill.”

“I don’t owe any money.”

“Pardon.” Silence. “Let me access your records. Yes, your account is paid in full.”

“I know.” I am screaming at Mechanical Man.

“Pardon? I did not understand. Would you like to speak to a customer service representative about your account?”


“Please hold.”

I hold. I hear nothing. I cuss under my breath just hoping those friendly little recording devices are recording my customer dissatisfaction. Then I hear beep, beep, beep, beep.

I slam down the phone and try again. I do this six times. Six times. Mechanical Man tells me I have called many times before. “Is this about an unresolved issue?”

You bet your sweet….

Finally, after going through the can’t-help-you-till-you-pay-your-bill-and-yep-your-bill-is-paid-in-full cycle again (now we’re on call number seven), I finally get through. “Hello, Collections. How may I help you?”


“I don’t owe money. The system says I owe money and then says I don’t owe money and then transfers me to you.”

“You don’t owe money.”

“I know!”

“I’ll transfer you to customer service.”

Fast forward ten minutes later—yes, ten minutes! “Hello, how may I help you?” says Rude Phone Guy.

“I need to cancel a work order I made yesterday.”

“Sorry, ma’am. You can’t do that. You have to let them come out and install and then cancel. You will not be charged.”

Was I hearing this right? “Are you sure,” I kept asking. “This doesn’t make sense.”

“Yes ma’am. I’m sure. Call us after it’s installed.” Eventually I consent. I tell Rude Phone Guy to transfer me. (Maybe I should call him Saving Your Company Lots of Money Guy instead.) He does.

I have more than one piece of business to handle with this conglomerate.

“May I help you?” Sweet Internet Lady says.

Finally, a nice person of good cheer who seems interested in being helpful. She cancels my order and goes so far as to give me special tips so that I wouldn’t be penalized later. How nice. Then she says, “Have I done everything possible to serve you in the best way?”

I mumble “Yes” in a grumpy, irritated voice. I’m thinking to myself if she ONLY knew. She doesn’t because I don’t tell her. I am tired of talking.

“You may be called later and asked about your experience. Please let them know how pleased you are.”


I have one more step to complete this day before being fully disentangled from my worst nightmare. What the hell had I been thinking? The Sign Up Guy I had talked to the previous day was GOOD. Even though he couldn’t see me, he knew I had sucker written all over my face. I am wondering why I have to talk to three different people when smooth Sign Up Guy did it all for me with one magic press of a key.

I call the final number. Surprisingly, a real person comes on line quickly. No Mechanical Guy for this bunch. I only have to wait about three minutes. Talk about excitement! I start talking. I start explaining. I want to disconnect! Yes, disconnect.

“What’s your name?”


“You’re not Greg?”

“I’m his wife.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, you can’t order the disconnect because the account is not in your name,” says Nasty Satellite Guy.

“I made the initial order—just yesterday. What do you mean I can’t cancel it?”

“Sorry. You can’t.”

I argue. It doesn’t help.

Dang, I think. Now I get the pleasure of calling my husband and telling him he gets to call and cancel an order he never made. He’s going to love this. He especially loves being pulled into dramas not of his own making. Don’t we all? So I tell this guy. “He’s going to be so mad about this.” Like Nasty Satellite Guy really cares.

“We’re open 24/7 for your convenience,” he says.

“My convenience would be if you’d let me cancel this service.” And I can’t stop. I have been at this all morning. Mechanical Man, Rude Phone Guy, Sweet Internet Lady and now Nasty Satellite Guy. “My husband’s going to be so mad,” I keep saying. And then I do something I just don’t do. I unleash on Nasty Satellite Guy. Hours and hours of pent-up frustration come pouring out. Heck, I think he even gets a little of the previous week’s anger. At first he argues back, which I find odd. Then he stops. Finally my tirade passes. I have the last word. I hang up.

A few days later, we decide to cancel a program we have with a major credit card company. Again, I am not Greg and again they refuse to talk to me despite the fact that a person named Greg had called in and given them permission to talk to me. It is on record.

“Sorry, ma’am. Canceling the card is not covered under the permission.”

I hold my breath.

This time I refuse to pull my hubby into the drama. I sat down and wrote a letter. I ask for the account to be cancelled and sign it Greg.

Guess what? The notice of cancellation arrived in the mail today. In the note is included the request signed by none other than Greg. NOT. I feel like calling Mechanical Man

Allyn Evans
info at


Prill Boyle said...

Oh my gosh, Allyn. I have so many stories like this.

One in particular that still gets me worked up concerns United Airlines. They had the gall to charge my credit card for a flight to San Francisco THEY canceled (not because of weather or some other act of God) and that I didn't re-book because to do so would have meant that I would have missed the meeting I was flying to SF for in the first place.

In any event, I spent four hours--yes, four hours--on the phone with a customer service rep trying to get my money refunded. I went almost all the way to the top, not just to a human being, but a human being in charge of human beings. The most I could get out of this person was a credit for a flight in the future.

Exasperated, I called my credit card company. A real person answered the phone within three minutes. I explained the situation. The person said she'd take the charge off my bill. I said, "That's it?" She said, "That's it."

I felt so relieved...and stupid. I should have called my credit card company first.

Next time...

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That is too funny!

I HATE all the automation in phone services these days. I think the worst are credit card companies. It usually takes me ten minutes to reach a live human being if I have to call my credit card peoples.

Maybe we should fight back. Maybe our automated people should call their automated people!

L. Diane Wolfe

Allyn Evans said...

I'm going to remember that one. After the experience I had a few years back, I make purchase decisions based on what type of customer response system they have. For example, my new phone company is local. I call. I talk to a human. Same with my computer equipment. I don't order from one of the major companies, I have a local guy build them from scratch. Something happens, I call. He fixes!

Allyn Evans said...

If only I had automated people...


If you want to see a funny clip on this subject by a student at Carnegie Melon, visit:

Barbara Techel said...

This is so funny, Allyn! But not funny when you are the one in the middle of this maddening event. It drives me crazy all the automated things! With the economy the way it is how about having REAL people talking to each other... and talking nice... and who knows actually enjoying it when you call a company? Now that would be grand.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Oh, how I feel for this situation. Love the picture of the wonderful Miss M.!

Funny, it comes just as i'm writing a section in one of my new HowToDoItFrugally books on how retailers would be wise to answer their own D*#@ phones!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Blogging at Writer's Digest 101 Best Website,

Allyn Evans said...

Amen, Carolyn!

Prill Boyle said...

I love LDW's suggestion: I'll have my mechanical people call your mechanical people. :-)

Camellia said...

you betcha...and I always go to the top if I can...Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't.

Beth Blair said...

Oh my gosh, those stories are so painful! And even more painful when you're in the midst of it!

Mickkie said...

I loved your story. It made me laugh out loud at work with all of the co-workers in other cubicles wondering if I had lost it! In our business of hospital billing we get to talk to the automatic systems a lot. You always know when the systems have gone too far because someone in the office will get louder and louder until finally they are screaming into the phone at the automatic system. It is quite funny! Unfortunately I think this is the way the business' are going so we are going to have to learn to laugh when these crazy things would normally make us want to pull our hair out! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I loved this story!! And I needed a laugh just now. I have felt the same way when dealing with these mechanical people but could never have articulated my story as well! Thanks!!

Allyn Evans said...

Guess what came in the mail today? Yep...the magazine!

I'm returning it and then carefully checking my cc account for charges when it arrives. :)