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News Opinion Op-Eds

What would it cost to get a real human to answer the phone?

Dear Whomever is in Charge of Customer Service for DirecTV:

All I wanted was to watch the game.

I was back in my hotel room after a long day, and I figured, what better way to unwind? Now, the game wasn't available on the hotel channels, but I've got that League Pass service you offer and one of its perks -- supposedly -- is that you can watch the game right on the ol' iPad.

So I got out the ol' iPad and I fired up the app and I retrieved the password and I tried to sign in and nothing happened, so I called you guys and the robot lady answered and told me to OPRIMA NUMERO DOS if I wanted to conduct my business in Spanish, which I didn't, so I didn't and I said yes when the robot lady asked if I was a subscriber and I gave her my phone number when she asked for it and then she asked me to tell her what I wanted, and I tried to explain twice but she didn't get it, so I told her I had a question about League Pass and she gave me this long spiel about how I could buy League Pass, which I didn't need to do, since I already had it, so I asked the robot lady to connect me with technical support and she said she would and that's about when she hung up on me, so I called again and I went through the whole thing again and this time I got to a human being who listened to my problem and what I had done to solve it, expressed remorse, then told me to do the same things I had done, which had not worked the first time, and when I did and it didn't work again, this person transferred me to another person who also expressed remorse and then, reading from a manual, told me to do the thing I had done, which hadn't worked the first two times, and when I explained this, transferred me to a third person who dutifully expressed remorse and quickly concluded he could not help me and told me to contact the NBA.

By this point, the game was at halftime. I gave up.

So anyway, Mr. or Ms. Whomever is in Charge, here's the thing: Can I talk to a human being next time? I'll pay extra if you simply have the phone answered by someone with a pulse.

Not just you. I make the same offer to my cellphone company, my Internet provider, the electric company and the bank. I am willing to pay more if it means that when I call your company, my call will be answered by an actual, knowledgeable human being who will listen to my problem and solve it.

That doesn't seem much to ask. Once upon a time, it wasn't. But that was before technology made our lives simpler and more convenient. It was before the age turned distant and impersonal and human beings became cost inefficient. It was before someone got the bright idea to let robots answer the phone.

Meaning not just machines that use voice recognition software to misunderstand what you're asking for and route your call to the wrong department, but also those human robots who, once they do get your call, read mechanically from a script that requires them to express remorse for your problem, explain why they can't fix your problem, try to "up sell" you on some new service that does not address your problem, then ask if you are satisfied with how they have resolved your problem.

Those old movies that told us how machines would take over the world had it wrong. One does not see human skulls crushed beneath robot feet. No, one just sees human spirit crushed beneath robot customer service. One misses the days when companies employed actual people to serve actual people and if they were occasionally surly, clueless or unhelpful, they were at least real -- capable of acknowledging your presence.

How much to get that back? Seriously. You could market it as a premium package. DirecTV Pulse -- Now With Real Humans!

Give me a call and let's discuss. Press 3 for English.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His e-mail is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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