Robots versus humans


IF there are two things seemingly designed to annoy us, surely they must be ‘robot’ telephone voices, and call-centres employing people we can barely understand. “If you are calling about…., press one; if you are calling about…., press two”, and so on, with the one thing that interests you not having a place in this robot-generated list.

If you’re an optimist, you break in at the end of the recital to explain your problem, but the robot merely says: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” and goes through the entire menu again.


In desperation you press ‘One’, hoping this might put you in touch with a human, but,…”Please listen to the following options,” says a clone of the previous voice, proceeding to drone through another almost interminable list.

By now you probably have steam coming out of your ears. You have been on the telephone for some 10 minutes, and you’ve got nowhere.

However, if you persevere, you might be told by another robot, that you will be “connected shortly with one of our operators.” Music ‘entertains’ you, then another robot says: “Please hold on. Your call is very important to us.” So you hold on, listening to the repeated message for 20 minutes – and you are paying for this, don’t forget – before you slam down the phone, with your problem still unresolved.

Happily it isn’t always like this. Telephone companies do seem to be making an effort to improve matters.

A while ago I returned to Spain after a fairly long absence, to find my broadband contract had been terminated. Now, I speak reasonable Spanish, but unfamiliar technical terms tend to be beyond me. I rang Telefonica Service and was connected to a man who spoke no English.

My computer, a laptop, is programmed in English, and for a good 40 minutes this young chap worked, taking me through the re-installation procedure. I was receiving instructions in Spanish, translating them for the benefit of my English computer, and hopping back and forth between the two languages. Finally we succeeded, and I felt very proud of myself. But I wouldn’t have had a hope without that young man’s almost angelic patience. No robot could have done that.

Another time I returned to the UK, to find my broadband connection so bad and erratic that I was tempted to revert to dial-up, but I rang BT Service and found myself speaking to a young man, probably in Delhi.

His English, although accented, was good, and he not only corrected my connection, he arranged a rebate for the period of what had been an intermittent BT fault. Then he told me that a free up-grade was available from Microsoft, and proceeded to shepherd me through the entire up-grading process – at BT’s expense!

Last year, about to leave the UK for a fairly long period, I rang BT to ask if it might be cheaper for me to disconnect my ‘Home-Hub’ whilst away. A young Irish girl came on, telling me that would save almost nothing, but that she could put me on a new contract offering the same service as before, but cheaper. Over the twelve-months since then, I have saved £110.

Would any robot have taken the trouble to help me? I think not.



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