Search the Site

Listen Carefully as Our Menu Options Have Recently Changed

Moving houses has always been like having three teeth removed without anesthetic. These days the pain is accentuated by having to wait on the phone hearing, “Please listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed.” That’s corporate-speak for, “Don’t even bother pressing zero hoping to speak to a human. That’ll just put you back at the beginning.”

My latest such adventure started with an email from the phone company (Verizon). I was told that a technician would come to hook up our new service during the time “window” of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If a window is an opening in a wall, then 8 am to 5 p.m. is more like the whole wall. Trying to shrink the window, I spent more than an hour on hold for one person after another who could only forward me to someone else equally unhelpful. The circular chain of authority finally snapped when the last person claimed (all this discussion is at 10 a.m. on the day itself) “We have absolutely no way to reach the technician.” And then asked “Have I provided excellent service today?”

Let me fight this blood-sucking insanity with one of the few methods that I know: numbers. I’m going to estimate how much of our lives we waste on hold, or talking to people who put us back on hold. A typical figure for me is about 1 hour per week. Of roughly 100 waking hours, that’s 1 percent of my life. Another way to imagine this amount is that I have a 1 percent chance of losing my life to voicemail.

Over a lifetime of 75 years, the voicemail death rate would then be 1/75th of a percent per year. Expressed in the usual units for mortality, the rate is roughly 13 deaths per 100,000 people per year. This rate is higher than that of some serious problems. For example, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s statistics for 2007, suicide and homicide all come in lower than 13 per 100,000 per year (at 11.5 and 6.1, respectively). Which makes sense, for modern voicemail is enough to drive you to one or the other.