Automated Articulation

By Lyle Hill

It was a voice like none I had ever heard before. It was not simply pleasing, but beautiful. Yet even the word beautiful was not descriptive enough. It was … heavenly, yes that’s it … heavenly.

“Welcome to the friendly world of Celestial Glass & Architectural Metal Products, your quality, out of this world supplier,” the angelic voice began, “where your complete satisfaction is our only goal.”

The calm serenity of her voice had a soothing, almost hypnotic effect on me. It was a good thing too, because once again the mortals at Celestial had fouled up an important order and we had customers screaming and inventory of materials we typically stocked would soon be depleted. This particularly critical order was now three weeks overdue and I had been steaming when I had dialed Celestial’s number. But now the ethereal quality of her timbre was starting to overcome my anger.

“If you’d like to place an order, please 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 city-by-city weather report from today’s newspaper to me and I wouldn’t mind. But, alas, I needed some answers so I quickly pressed four.

“Your order is important to us,” the angel continued. “We will always do our best to deliver the highest quality products on time, every time. After all, that’s why you love and trust us. Let this high-tech automated communication system keep you informed of your order’s progress through our high-speed, state-of-the-art distribution center.”

She continued, “For orders that are now four weeks or less past due, lightly press one. For orders that are now five to eight weeks past due, kindly press two. For orders that are now nine to 24 weeks past due, gently press three. If you can’t remember when you placed your order but believe that one of the Bushes may have been president at the time, softly press four.”

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

“We are oh so sorry for any inconvenience we may have caused you,” she said with a heavenly cadence. “When we, your most dependable supplier, do not deliver on time we feel your pain. But remember, a million people will go to bed hungry tonight in third-world countries, so who are you to get upset about some little old order?”

I wiped a small tear from my eye and wondered how I could possibly be angry with this warm, compassionate creature. Of course she was right. The world has more pressing problems to worry about than my little old order no matter how late it was or how important I might believe it is. What a lovely person she must be.

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

“If you have received usable material, but not what you ordered, press one. If you received broken or damaged materials, press two. If you have not yet received any material, press three and go to our excuse menu. Please enter the first four letters of the excuse you expect us to give you followed by the pound sign. If you’re unsure of what excuse may apply this time, please enter the first four letters of the excuse we gave you last time, followed by the pound sign.”

She continued, “If you received usable material, but believe it is for someone that you might know, please make arrangements to deliver it to them as soon as possible and at your cost. Otherwise late charges may apply. If the materials you received were only slightly damaged and you believe you can repair them to a usable state, please do so and install them as soon as possible. We do not accept back charges or deducts for repair work done on our high-quality products, so press five to explain how you intend to pay
us on time. If you can’t identify the material you received, we probably can’t either, so please discard it promptly and properly. Press six to make payment arrangements.”

The list of options continued endlessly. Yes, it did seem that my quality supplier knew the business well, as I had experienced each and every option mentioned at some point in my dealings with them. At last though, the voice that belonged to my new best friend gave me 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 city-by-city weather report for today, press two. For great ideas on excuses to use on your customers about late or lost orders, press three.”

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

Lyle Hill is the managing director of Keytech North America, a company providing research and technical services for the glass and metal industry. He also serves as president of, an information portal and job generation company for the glass industry. Hill has more than 40 years’ experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at

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