Big lorry, small stone. Zi-i-ip crack, windscreen gone.
Call the insurance broker, who answers at once.
’Thank you for calling. If you have a touch-tone telephone, please press
one for all motor enquiries, or two for all household enquiries.’
I press one obediently, and get another ringing tone.
Braced for a long wait, I wonder if the motor department has adopted the
BT style, which is menu followed by menu after menu, and never the sound
of a human voice.
Or the sharedealer mode: ’Thank you for calling. Our client service
department is very busy at the moment. Please hold and we will transfer
your call as soon as one of our assistants is available.’
This was followed by some slightly off-key canned music, which was
punctuated in mid-bar every 30 seconds or so by wholly unreassuring
reassurances that they still exist.
Memo to companies who use this mode: under these particular
circumstances, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, while it may be less
impressively European, is definitely much more diplomatic than
Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
Or perhaps I am in for the Midland/HSBC treatment, whose centralised
client service department declines to put me into contact with the
market town branch I have been dealing with for the past 40 years, and
my father before me.
Not, that is, until I have given them the third letter of my secret
password, my date of birth, the maiden name of my very late mother, a
letter/digit from my Memorable Date (and what a girl she was) and,I
could be wrong, but I think the last item was the colour of the tail of
my barber’s cat.
But no, it was none of these.
After precisely ten rings a polite real human being told me that since
the client service staff were all very busy, to save me a long wait I
should give her my name and phone number, and someone would ring me back
within the hour. Impressed, I hung up gratefully.
That was three days ago, and still no call back. I tried again
yesterday, with a result which was identical in every detail.
This morning I mentally sacked the broker and rang the insurers direct,
who answered at once.
’Please select one of the following options ...’
But, within five minutes, I was talking to a polite real human being,
who was actually able to transfer me to their recommended repairer
The repairer, in turn, confirmed that the job could be done at my home
and no extra charge, and that their local branch would phone me within
the hour to make an appointment. But that was six hours ago, and no call
Maybe none of them were polite real human beings. Maybe they were all
highly sophisticated androids, like the ones in Star Trek.
Come to that, dear reader, maybe you too are a highly sophisticated
To an aged marketer, well past his sell-by date, it seems that these
days the so-called service companies employ little else.
Gordon Medcalf is a Fellow and former director-general of The Marketing