What the Cell?

Your service provider is here (or somewhere) to drive you crazy

By Clyde Edgerton

You know your phone service provider? The organization that helps you with cellphone matters in their store, a place where the walls are covered with gadgets (like a hard shell case that costs more than your phone), gadgets that you and your children needed yesterday? The place where you — if you ask about your phone bill — are politely taken to a large blackboard with a chalk tray and erasers, or to a blank sheet of paper, and somebody starts politely writing down tiny lists of numbers and explaining the charge for many things, including the data-connection-bluemoon-raython-regulator charge?

That place.

I decided to call the billing department on my cell the other day — the billing people up the chain of command. I wanted to save some time by not going into the place described above. The reason I called was because I got a text from my wife that said, “Please call our service provider. I think they are offering some kind of new discount.”

I called. I got a message that went something like this: “Please enter your nine-digit phone number, including your area code and the six numbers that follow. Si quieres, press four. If you are a robot, say ‘no’ and sing the first verse of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ If you are calling about a medical emergency, hang up and dial 911. If you have hemorrhoids and sometimes have pain during a backyard barbecue or while frolicking through a field of flowers, then tell your doctor about Lo-Evorona. You’ll be glad you did, because your doctor may follow your suggestion rather than follow her knowledge about treatment — but remember that during your visit with your doctor, just say ‘Lo-Evorona’ because that’s probably all you will have time to say during your short time with your doctor, who is hurrying to a conference with a drug rep. But while waiting in the doctor’s waiting room, on the other hand, you perhaps had time to write a short novel.”

I started pressing random keys on my cellphone, and on the number 7, I got this: “Because of the recent hurricane, we are experiencing a high volume of water. Stay on the phone while you evacuate. A service representative will be with you shortly.”

I press “Speaker” on my cellphone face and place the phone on the couch. Some music starts. I continue watching Shark Tank.

A few days later, a service representative comes on the line. “Hello, my name is Indiana. Your phone number please — including area code and the six digits that follow.” (These are the people who 21 years ago invented the possibility of reading, on the receiving end of the call, the number of the person calling you.)

I give Samantha my number. She says, “And with whom am I speaking?” And I tell her. She says, “How are you today?” I say, “Fine, and you?” She says, “I’m doing well. Thank you for asking.”

I think, this might be easy. I tell her why I am calling, and she says, “Let me get your records up in front of me.” I wait a little while and she says, “I see that you have recently received a discount of $7.”

I say, “I’m not sure about that. I recently got a text from my wife that said we might qualify for some discounts.”

“Let me check on that,” she says. “Please hold.” I start to say something, but music begins. The music I’m listening to is the kind of music that if you held a survey among 4 million Americans of every ethnicity, of every social class, of every wage bracket and most occupations, of most ages, heights and weights, each person would, individually and independently, swear that this music I’m listening to now is the most God-awful, worst music they’ve ever heard.

The music plays through the phone on the couch as I watch another Shark Tank and then Naked and Afraid, How I Learned to Gain Weight, and Hanging Out With Your Neighbor’s Spouse. What happens during this time is that the music gets interrupted by spoken lines like this: “Did you know you could reduce your phone bill by up to 50 percent if you rent your car with Thrifty at any stop-over during a Carnival Cruise adventure before Christmas 2017?”

And then, “Thank you for continuing to hold. We are experiencing a high volume of calls because we don’t hire enough operators with our 9-billion-dollar profit margin each month. If you ever have to not wait then we are too lax with profits and our way-cool, wealthy shareholders will fall into a tizzy-fit.”

A little bit of the above may be slightly exaggerated. The rest is not.

I hang up. Within 15 minutes the phone rings. I answer. A perky automated voice says, “Would you like to take a short survey regarding the service you received in your most recent call to your service provider?”

“Yes, I would.”

“Are you satisfied with your service?”

“No.”

“I see,” the voice artfully muses. So artfully that I picture her hand to her chin. “At the tone,” the voice continues, “would you please comment briefly?”

The tone sounds. I start talking and within — it could not have been more than six seconds — I hear another tone and this: “Please listen to your recording and if you are satisfied, disconnect, or press 1 to continue recording.”

As I’m listening to the start of my complaint (which is that Samantha never returned to our first conversation as promised) there is a beep and I’m disconnected. I swear. If I had an old-fashioned phone I’d hang up. Come to think of it, when I did have an old-fashioned phone I could dial “0” and immediately talk to a human being.

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

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