Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Man In the Machine VS the Machine In the Man

* Caution:Rambling rant to follow.

Why is Canada so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to cell phone service?

Today as I was in mid conversation with my mom, my phone cut off. A message received afterwards informed me I had run out of minutes. No warning, nothing. 

Off to find more minutes. The first 2 places I asked didn’t sell “pay as you go” minutes. The third place sold them, but the girl first directed me to gift phone cards, then to international calling cards before she figured out what I was really asking for.

Once we had established exactly what I wanted, I put $40 dollars on my phone. This amount will only last a month, as opposed to six in Turkey and Taiwan, but ok fine, I’ll be sure to use up the minutes.

I dial the number on the receipt, and a machine comes on the line welcoming me and informing me her name is Melanie.

What? Why do I have to know the machine’s name? How silly!  It’s not a person, just a voice! There’s no brain connected to the voice and I resent the time she takes up with her quirky little Palin-esque “I’m gonna be askin’ ya a few questions today”. She finally gets around to asking me for my 4-digit PIN.

Why does everything in this country require a freaking PIN?

I come home, dig through all my papers and come up with the phone’s original receipt and the PIN and call the line again.  Melanie comes back on the line and goes through her tiresome spiel - again.

Finally Melanie asks for my PIN, I punch it into the keypad. She pauses and then goes on to tell me that I have 10 cents in my account, and that that 10 cents is valid for another 300 days! (Do I need to know this? There’s another number to call for this information. What a waste of time!)

Now Melanie wants to know if I want to add money to my account. (Isn’t this the number one calls to add money to their account?)

“YES!” I snap at Melanie.

Will you be using “pay as you go” or a credit card?

“Pay as you go”.

“I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch that, did you say “pay as you go?”


Now she wants that 14-digit number on the bill. I say the numbers clearly, she says, “ I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, can you say the number again for me?”

I punch the numbers into the keypad.

Melanie says, “Ok, just let me confirm that number with you, was that number 9205....” and repeats the number back to me. “Is that correct?”

“YES!” I yell into the phone.

“Your new balance is forty dollars and ten cents, and is valid for 30 days from today. When you are finished your call you can simply say Goodbye or stay…”

What a ridiculous system. In Turkey you simply punch in * 122 * and your 14-digit number, and send. Five seconds later they send you a confirmation SMS. Done. Easy as pie.

This process was over 5 minutes of aggravation and tested my patience immensely. And I’m a patient person. (Really!)

When we lost our luggage coming through Chicago last Christmas we had a similar voice on the line, although this time it was male. “I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do for ya” and “Can you do something for me? Could you punch in your claim number now?”

When that failed I was forwarded onto a woman in Bangalore, who continued with her fake American accent and out of place idioms, (If you could just hold tight a sec, I’ll bring your data up ASAP!).

You know what would make me happy? I just want machines to be machines and people to be people. Why can’t the cell phone provider have a voice that simply says, “Enter your PIN now” and “Enter your number now”, or even better, install the efficient SMS system the rest of the world uses.

And why can’t the woman in Bangalore, just be a woman from Bangalore?

My best experience with an info line occurred when setting up “automatic payment” with my bank a few years back. The gentleman on the line was obviously Indian and giving me the standard company lines.

“Just hold tight while I update your info”, he parroted.
There was a pause.
“So…. Where are you?” I asked.
“I’m in Bangalore, Madam” he replied.
“Bangalore! I was in Bangalore two months ago.”
“Really? Did you like our city?”
“To be honest, I only changed trains at the station.”
“Oh Madam! You must come back! Bangalore is a beautiful city! My home! It's called the city of gardens you know! Why didn't you stay longer?”
We went on to have a much more enjoyable exchange and the tedious task of sorting out those annoying PINs became almost pleasant.

And when he finally wished me a good day and said “thanks for calling” at the end of our business, I actually felt he really meant it! 


  1. Err, I hate to tell you this, but there is a number you punch in and it bypasses all that. It's like, 1 or 0. Next time your passing a Rodgers ask them. I ask when I am there, punch the numbers in and once they are secure in my phone, I leave the store. But you are totally right. Crap-o-la system.

  2. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

    NOW I find out. I was seriously yelling at the Machine Melanie, as opposed to you, Human Melanie.

  3. I know. I get freaked out when I Call. "Hello, this is Melanie." "No it's not! You're a machine!" It's weird. Couldn't they have chosen a more machine like name, like, I don't know, Steven Harper?

  4. If I were in charge it would be Arnold Swarzenegger's Voice. "Hello, this is Ahnold. Press pound now or die trying."

  5. Ha! Mel, you're cracking me up.
    Well I absolutely hate those phone messages. (But who doesn't?) Imagine the time saved if these outfits had real people - and enough of them so you don't have to wait 40 minutes to speak to one. But then, it's our time wasted, not theirs. Maybe one day a company will quit prattling on about our business being important to them and actually treat us like it is. You can just picture Glenn's reaction to this kind of hooey - it's amazing our phone receiver is in one piece.