Talking to Robots

Recent experiences at trying to get to a blood pumping, lung breathing, skin draped human when I’m trying to resolve an issue with a large corporation have been mind crushing.

I will sometimes succeed when the robot voice answering the call offers numerical choices I can respond to with my keypad, but when they want me to actually speak to them about what I want, this technology all too often leads me to blast profanity, at high volume, that could get me incarcerated.

Sorry. I could not understand you. Please try again.

This morning’s call into my service provider was the best example yet proving we are still in the infancy stages of this technology. The large corporations using it do so to decrease their head count, and look hip. Twice in the first call I was redirected back to the very top of the question and response chain after spending 3 to 4 minutes trying to provide the reason of my call. If the police or federal agents knock on my door sometime today I will not be surprised.

Sorry. I could not understand you. Let’s start over..

On my second call in, I responded to every request for information with a 5 second hold down of my zero (0) keypad button. This finally led to being dumped into a call center, and after a 5 to 10 minute wait (no problem with that, my headset is on and I’m doing other things), I actually got to an actual live person. It wasn’t the right person (my bad for the hold down the 0 ploy), but a nice person who sent my call to the right place in less than a minute, where my issue was resolved in less than 2 minutes by another pleasant person.

I really do try to play nice with the bots when they present themselves, but the technology just isn’t there yet. And when it starts listing the different issues you may be calling about, I find all too often mine is not offered as a selection. I do use online services so I almost always search the target corporation’s web site for an answer on my problem, or specifically where to call.

Suggestions to our Corporate Czars? Back off a little with the reductions in headcount in the customer service area, until the bot voice technology catches up as a quality replacement. And the folks in your company managing the bot technology may need to understand the human interface a little better.

Sorry. I am not working well for you. I will transfer you to Margie. She will help you.

On the Road #3: Another Market Stop

Background for the On The Road series.

This stop gave me another up close and personal cultural experience, but one quite opposite from what I described in On the Road #2: Schooled at the Corner Market.

My target stop was a small market in a run down section of the city.  I found it operating out of the first floor apartment in an old, dilapidated building.  While getting my paper work together, I noticed a group of children playing in front of a building about two doors down from where I parked.  Before I left my car, a boy in his mid teens walked out of an alleyway next to the market and set his gaze on me.  He wasn’t wearing a shirt, undoubtedly to advertise the results of some intense body building.

Inside the store it was very dark, with just a few bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.  Some customers were talking with an old man who was working the register and they all gave me a quick once-over in a manner which increased my feeling of not being welcome.  To avoid catching grief back at the office for not completing this stop, I decided to wait for the customers to finish their business and leave.  It was a very long wait.

Just as the last customer in the store was getting ready to leave, the teen I saw outside entered with what seemed to be the entire group of kids I had seen playing in the street.  There were a dozen or more and he had them line up single file at the counter, which pushed me further back into the store.  He told the old man to give them each the candy or soda of their choice, leaned up against the counter facing me directly, and  glared at me nonstop.

I decided this visit was not worth possibly getting my ass kicked, my car damaged, or being relieved of my earlier collections, so I left.  Being a short, lean, 65 year old man, I would not be able to defend myself against this kid.  After I started my car I looked back and saw him leaning out the door, arms crossed, with a smug look on his face.

This story may seem overly dramatic, but it is how it occurred.  Blatant intimidation worked well for the teen, and the use of his young gang to block me from getting to the old man at the register was a pretty slick move, one I imagine he had used before.  I have no guilt or shame over my reaction to it all – I felt threatened, eager to leave, and never wanting go back.

I did not take anything positive away from this experience.  It was my first exposure to a bully since my college years.  It felt just as uncomfortable as it did back then.  I did encounter this type of behavior on later runs, but none quite so “in your face”.  It was often just ignoring me until I went away.

Background for the “On the Road” series

On the Road

I’ll be rolling out a thread of posts relating days spent working as a bag man for an organization which will remain nameless, as will the places and people I visit. It’s all legal, but identities and locations are best left unspecified in the interests of privacy and keeping this job.

In a day’s route I can hit up to twenty different businesses across the state, ranging from 18th floor lawyers’ offices to neighborhood markets, government offices and banks to manufacturing plants and warehouses. I meet lot of new people and some will remain in my memory for both good reasons and bad. Overall, it’s been a very pleasant eye opening adventure, at times forcing me to adjust my thinking on how things are, and the human species in general.

I realize the “On the Road” theme is not original, but due to my previously reclusive nature, some places I’ve been and people I’ve met since I started this gig have had impacts on me I consider worth sharing. So come on along for the ride.


UPDATE: I managed only three posts on this planned thread so far. I left the job sooner than expected – it was my call as it was beginning to stress me out. Those of you who know me are not surprised. The amount of road construction and repair going on in the state this past summer reached critical max on my brain.

I’m leaving the three posts out there as I enjoyed putting them together, and they are two of most memorable stops I had. There were a couple more deserving report, and maybe I’ll get to them later in the year. They’re still in draft, I just couldn’t get the point I was trying to make across clearly enough. Like this updated post, all related the posts are tagged On The Road.

On the Road #2: Schooled at the Corner Market

Background for the On The Road series.

On the road.

My next stop was a grocery market, the name inferring Latino. I gathered my paperwork, locked the car and headed for the door. Outside of the market were three kids, two boys about 9 and 13 years old, and a small girl about 5. They eyed me curiously as I passed, said “Hello”, and entered the store.

The lighting inside was dim but I could see it was a small place, jam packed with groceries and other items for sale. The decorations and signs told me its main customer base and ownership was Peruvian. The woman behind the counter smiled as I walked up and I started with my usual greeting and reason for being there. It was immediately obvious she wasn’t understanding what I was saying. I’ve encountered this before in my life but accept that I’m in her store, her neighborhood, and I need to do a better job of explaining myself.

It wasn’t going very well, but she was forgiving and trying as hard as I was. Suddenly, the 3 kids outside came running in and surrounded me at the counter, the younger two on each side of me and the older boy looking over my shoulder. I admit an immediate uncomfortable feeling, but I was as immediately relieved when the oldest boy laughingly said “Hey! Let me help – my Mom’s not too good with English”. This made the younger kids giggle and put me at ease. He translated for both his mother and me, and our business was completed. The 3 ran back outside as quickly as they came in. As I left the store, I thanked the oldest for his help and said “Good Bye!” to all.

The 5 or 10 minutes of time related here stays with me still. It’s hard to explain. Or maybe just hard to admit. I tell myself I’m not a bigot, thinking of myself as an aged hippie. But how much these minutes opened my eyes to how I sometimes fall to stereotyping peoples and places was a needed whack to the back of the head. Isolation from other cultures around you does not help you see the things we all have in common in our lives. Meeting people of other cultures up close and personal in their environment, like in this encounter, can help to dispel that stereotypical thinking.

This was a family, making a living like the rest of us. Mom was running the store, and I would bet the oldest son was taking care of and entertaining his younger sister and brother to help Mom out. And watch out for her too.

This day was in my first week on this job, and I’ve often been in many different ethnic neighborhoods since. This visit helped me be a hopefully more aware and open minded person in these later stops.