Automated phone systems that provide assistance to customers should at most play quiet, light music or sound a mild tone every ten seconds or so, when they put you on hold. That way you can continue comfortably to do what you were doing, and put the phone on speaker or hold it on your shoulder, until someone picks up the other end of the line. The too-frequent alternative subjects the caller to repeated recorded messages that are useless beyond the initial iteration and needlessly interrupt thereafter. It’s even worse when they vary the recordings, especially to advertise something. Then not only are you forced to wait, you are periodically distracted and must process messages for products and services in which you are not, at the moment, even slightly interested. Who enjoys such an experience? It’s like being transported to the hospital while being subjected to a sales pitch for the ambulance attendant’s auto-repair business.
But the most annoying business voicemail practice is the one where the chirpy recorded voice suggests that if I am really in a hurry I should consult the company’s website. At this point I am ready to yell something rude, both because this kind of announcement is a plainly hostile attempt to make me go away — Our time is more valuable than yours! — and because it ignores the possibility that I am calling precisely because I couldn’t find what I needed on the Web site, which is usually what happened. So they are doubly incompetent. They should be soliciting (and using) my feedback. Instead I get the feeling that I am calling one of those old-fashioned businesses where the phone rings for ten minutes straight while the guy at the counter gabs with the mailman.
The people who design these voicemail systems should consider the possibility that abusing captive callers may antagonize some of them into doing business elsewhere. It certainly has had that effect on me. And the way for a business to deal with this situation is not via the default, Dilbertesque response of making voicemail so burdensome that using the company’s Web site becomes the lesser evil. It is to improve the Web site to the point where customers will want to use it, will enjoy using it. Some companies have caught on, but many continue to act as if they think they’re doing customers a favor by answering the phone. I have a low threshold for avoiding such companies now, and I’ll bet that a lot of other consumers do too.
[I wrote the first draft of this post while on hold.]