OPINION: Marketing Society - Technology and services do not always connect

Big lorry, small stone. Zi-i-ip crack, windscreen gone. Call the insurance broker, who answers at once.

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



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