September 2003

Behind The Counter

Automated Articulation

by Lyle R. Hill

It was a voice like none I had ever heard before. It was not simply pleasing, but beautiful. Yet even the word beautiful is not descriptive enough. It was … celestial.

“Welcome to the friendly world of Velocity Woodworks, your quality wood supplier,” the angelic voice said, “where your complete satisfaction is our only goal.”

The calm serenity of the voice had a soothing, almost hypnotic effect on me. It was a good thing too, because once again the mortals at Velocity had fouled up an important order for one of our best customers. That order was now six weeks overdue, and I had been steaming when I dialed the phone. But now the ethereal quality of her timbre was starting to work on my anger.

“If you’d like to place an order, press one,” she said.

“For product information, press two. 

• For technical assistance, press three. 

• To review the status of an existing order, press four.”

She must be an angel, I thought. Human beings never sound this good. She could probably read the phone book to me, and I wouldn’t complain. But, alas, I needed answers and quickly. I pressed four.

“Your order is important to us,” Angelica continued. “And we will always do our best to deliver the highest quality products on time, every time. After all, that’s why we’re your quality wood supplier. We have even developed this high-tech automated communication system to keep you informed of your job’s progress through our shop.

• For freight information, press one.

• For orders past due four weeks or less, press two.

• For orders five to eight weeks past due, press three.

• For orders 12-24 weeks past due, press four.

• If you can’t remember how long overdue your order is, but think Jimmy Carter was president when you placed it, press five.

• For orders held up in credit even though it’s not your fault, tough luck.

• For orders held up in credit because it is your fault, hang up and call our competitor.”

Now I should have pressed three, but curiosity overtook me. I wanted to know what she would say to a poor guy who’d been waiting months for his material. With a slight pang of guilt, I pressed five.

“We are oh so sorry for any inconvenience we have caused you,” she said with a heavenly cadence. “When your quality wood supplier does not deliver on time, we feel your pain. But just remember, a million people will go to bed hungry tonight in China, so who are we to get upset about a little old order?”

I wiped a small tear from my eye and wondered aloud how I could possibly be angry with this warm, compassionate creature.

“Please listen carefully,” she continued, “and select the proper response.

• If you have received correct material, but the wrong finish, press one.

• If you received incorrect material, but the right finish, press two.

• If you have not yet received any material, press three and go to our excuse menu. Please enter the first four digits of the excuse you expect us to give you, followed by the pound sign. If you don’t know the excuse we will use, please enter the first four digits for the excuse we gave you last time followed by the pound sign.

• If you received correct materials, but believe it is for someone else’s job, please make arrangements to deliver it to them as soon as possible and at your cost. Otherwise late charges may apply. Press four to make payment arrangements.

The list of options continued endlessly. Yes, it did seem that my quality wood supplier knew the business well, as I had experienced each and every option at some point in my dealings with them. Finally though, the voice belonging to my new best friend gave but one final choice.

“If you are now as clueless as we are as to what happened to your order, press 138,” she said.

I pressed the three numbers and waited.

“For the Dial-a-Prayer hotline, press one. To hear a reading of the entire phone book, press two. For great ideas on what to tell your customer about his lost order, press three.”

I slipped my shoes off, leaned back in my chair and pressed “two.” 



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