Answering macchines that waste your time trying to guess why you called


Gold Member
Jun 20, 2006
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San Diego, CA

I don't know about you, but I've had it up to here with those telephone answering systems that more and more companies seem to be getting. The ones that keep offering you choice after choice, none of which are the ones you needed to talk to someone about.

I call my son's high school, and invariably a machine picks up with a recorded message. After a long-winded recorded message saying that I had indeed reached that particular school (what's wrong with "Hello?" On the VERY rare times when I mis-dial, I can usually figure out pretty quickly that I got the wrong number. Does your clientele contain an overly large proportion of people who (a) can't dial a phone, and (b) still think they're talking to high school staff after the fourth repetition of "Do you want fries with that?"?)

Then, instead of a human whom I can ask, "May I speak to Mr. Wrigley, please?", the machine starts playing "20 Questions" with me. And it invariably starts with, "For English, press 1"... a request that makes me think back to the number I dialled and wonder if I somehow slipped an incorrect "Country code" into it. No, I didn't.

Then it's "If you would like to contact the Attendance office, press 3." Ummm, did I do or say ANYTHING to make you think I wanted the Attendance office? In fact, couldn't you have skipped that question entirely, and all its brethern, simply by asking me what I DID want, instead of guessing?

Next, "If you would like to speak to an office administrator, press 4."

And on through the rest of it. "If you would like to speak to a school staff member, press 5." I'm still not sure of the difference between an administrator and a staff member. Maybe the staff member does actual work, while administrators design and install silly and inane phone answering systems?

"If you would like to speak to a teacher, please press 6." Aha... only six questions, and we've already narrowed it down to only half the adults at the school. I press 6.

"You have reached the teachers' answering service." I know that, I pressed 6 for that purpose. Are you now bragging that your vaunted Answering Machine actually does what it says it will do? It this a new and unusual development for you, that merits a special notice on the system itself, to customers who don't care about someone else's machine? See above comment about long-winded and useless intro messages.

"If you know the extension of the person you are calling, you may enter it at any time." That's nice. But those extensions aren't published anywhere, not in the phone book, not in the Internet directory, not in the School's archives. Something about the school worrying about teachers, the Principal, etc. getting crank phone calls. Apparently they figure that people who make crank calls won't bother spending much time with this long drawn-out procedure of getting in touch with an actual human... while someone who actually has something important to discuss, must jump through every single long, annoying hoop they put up.

"For Mrs. Anderson, press one-one."

"For Mrs. Aubrey, press one-two."

"For Mr. Benson, press one-three."

Oh, boy. I can see this is going to be a long day. Not sure how many teachers are at this school, but it isn't a little campus. And Mr. Wrigley is likely to be pretty close to the end of the list they have programmed in to the thing.

Do you see where I'm coming from here? I know, the school is trying to save money. They probably eliminated the salary of one entire switchboard operator or secretary.

But they did it by taking up MY time instead of hers. Now, every call takes MUCH longer to complete, than a simple "May I speak to Mr. Wrigley, please?".

And God help you if you press a wrong button. If you're lucky, you'll simply be bumped back to the beginning of the teacher list, and get to listen once more to all those extensions you couldn't care less about. But if you aren't so lucky, you may wind up waiting on hold for an extension in a closet somewhere that hasn't been used in ten years, listening to it ring, and ring, and ring, wih no way to get anyone's attention or say, "Oops, I made a mistake, it was MR. WRIGLEY I wanted, please, please don't be angry with me......"

Please, companies the world over. Stop admiring the marvelous complexity of your new phone answering machine for a minute, and ask youself who it is actually benefitting. The people trying to call you? Or the second-assistant-bean-counter over in the district office who never gets any calls because he is frankly a geek and a crashing bore no one wants to talk to, but whose job it was to select a phone system?

Lose the machine. Please.

And especially, get rid of the message that says, "Please don't hang up. Your call is important to us. And it will be answered in the order it was received, as soon as a customer service rep is available." BULL. If my call was important to YOU, you would have answered the damned phone, instead of rigging up some time-wasting machine to waste my time while stumbling through it. And this message tells me that you are aware of this problem, to the point where you have seen people hang up when they get the machine.

Maybe YOU should take the hint.


Well, maybe that's not a "Current Events" issue. But I sure feel better for having beaten up MY machine over it.

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