I long ago made my peace with the fact that when you call customer service, you get a machine rather than a human. It's OK, really, I've dealt with enough monosyllabic, gum-snapping staff at various service counters to welcome those polite if automated voices.

But lately the machines don't seem to want to deal with me either — whenever I call a customer service line, I get a gentle but firm recorded suggestion to maybe hang up and go online for whatever help I need.

No problem, but what if you're calling because your wireless connection has died?

I may be anthropomorphizing here, but I think the disembodied voices are pushing back. I think they've organized and are going on a work slowdown and may even be planning a strike. I don't think they like dealing with customers any more than humans did and they're trying to pawn us off on someone or something else.

Or maybe it's just me. You know how stores flag repeat returners of merchandise? I think maybe I've been tagged as a serial caller, one of those clingy, high-maintenance types.

I really tried not to be so needy, I know it's a total relationship killer. There may have been times when I called several times in a row, but I swear it was only because nothing on the main menu fit my apparently very unique needs, or I was asked for a 36-digit account number that I'd failed to memorize. So I'd have to hang up and start over. But there were never any midnight drunk dials — I learned in our time together, you never answer that late anyway — just short, cool, taking-care-of-business calls during daylight hours. I only called when I absolutely, positively had to.

Like, when I have no Internet connection.

I'd been an obedient customer — after multiple appeals, I'd agreed to go paperless and pay my Internet provider online every month. Sometimes I'd forget, but it just took a second email to remind me, and, a couple of clicks later, we were good.

Then, one day when I was trying to pay up, my password was rejected. The password that had been our pet name, a little secret between the two of us, for years. I tried to reset it but was rejected. I was forced to call customer service several times, and then several times more. Human intervention was required.

Human number one gave me a new password, which didn't work. Human number two told me it wasn't the password, it was the email address, which I've been using pretty much since email was invented. Humans three through five tried to make me switch to some other email address that I'd never seen but somehow was the one associated with the account if I wanted to continue paying online.

I could see where this was going. I can tell when someone's trying to break up with me. I don't need the whole, it's-not-you-it's-me speech. Although in this case, I'm guessing the speech would be: Actually, it is you, you're upsetting our call center's time-per-call metric. (Why do you think they're always telling you this call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes?)

So I gave up and reluctantly asked to return to paper billing, although even that required a couple more calls, to humans six through nine, before one actually showed up in the mail.

When my wireless connection went out, I thought it might be because my paper check was still snailing its way through the banking system. But it turned out to be a modem problem, according to human number 10, which required an actual rather than virtual journey to a brick-and-mortar service center — or rather, two of them.

Maybe it was just the excrutiating Beltway traffic jam between one center and the other. Or perhaps the baffling explanation at the first center that despite being the closest one to our house, it didn't handle city accounts, just county ones.

It made be nostalgic for the good ol' days, of pressing seven to return to the main menu, or nine to hear this information again. Even if, as in outer space, no one can hear you scream.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jean_marbella

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