Could I Please Speak to a Real Person?

by Lucy Blomfield

Menu Maze

If you would like to sell your product to American Airlines, do not be in a hurry. AA's electronic multiple-menu voice mail system rivals that of the IRA!

Recently, a salesman called AA to speak to the person who buys pins for their flight attendants. Five minutes later, after choosing several menu options, he was still hearing a recorded voice say, "If your product is fuel, press eight." The salesman wanted to shout, "No, my product is not fuel, it is pins!!" He was ready to hang up, but because of his now considerable time commitment, he persevered. Upon reaching the appropriate buyer, a living person, he learned that American Airlines doesn't buy pins directly from manufacturers. All pins are purchased by their advertising agency! What a waste of time!

Not to be defeated, the salesmen called American's ad agency. The receptionist could not give him information about their badge purchasing procedure. He was given the Voice Mail of the agent who deals with pins. The pin salesman has called the agent five times and left messages in his voice mail, but the agent has never returned these calls.

"We're Extremely Busy!"

My friend called H & R Block to make an appointment to have her tax forms checked. This was her conversation with their Receptionist:

My friend:"I'd like to come a week from Tuesday, in the evening, please."

H & R Block: "What time in the afternoon would you like to come?"

My friend: "I can only come in the evening next week."

H & R Block: "Can I put you on hold?"

My friend: "Could we just settle this quickly please?"

H & R Block: "What time in the afternoon would you like?"

My friend, with feeling: "I requested evening - this is the third time!"

H & R Block, defensively: "We are extremely busy. I'm doing the best I can!"

"That's What The Computer Screen Says!"

Many gift shops in the U.S. are selling Beanie Babies. They are small plush toys. The company that produces them is called Ty. Ty has difficulty fulfilling and tracking it's customers' orders.

Recently, a customer called Ty, to find out the status of their order. After being incorrectly transferred to the Credit Department, the customer spoke to a person in Customer Service. She said, "Your order is on the way to being processed." "What does that mean?" said the customer. Ty: "I don't know, but that's what the Computer screen says!"


A wholesale business in the U.S. uses United Parcel's International Service to receive its product from Asia. Whenever there are problems, they call Flora. Her name and number are easily located in the wholesaler's office. When they call Flora, they get Flora -- not a machine. If Flora is not available, she returns their call quickly. Flora listens carefully to the problem. She never seems too busy or too distracted to understand the wholesaler's situation.

Flora seems to anticipate the wholesaler's questions. She knows the correct person to call to solve the problem. Flora gets things done - courteously and efficiently. Whatever the situation, she is not defensive and she doesn't put the wholesaler "on hold." She calls the wholesaler back, and keeps him informed of the situation and progress being made.

Flora will call the wholesale company back at 6 p.m. (she is supposed to leave her job at 5), and have the solution to the problem organized. Most impressive of all, solving an international shipping problem is not part of her job description!

Real People

The business world is becoming increasingly automated and computerised. Many receptionists have become like machines. They seem impersonal and unfeeling -- unable to understand what a caller is saying. That is why talking to Flora and others like her is so refreshing. She is a receptionist that we remember. She brightens our day not only by her effectiveness but also because we feel somehow she really cares about us and our situation. Flora seems to us a real person.

We Are All Receptionists

Whenever we take a phone call for a colleague at work, we become a "receptionist." When we answer the phone, what kind of a receptionist will we be? Mechanized... ...distracted...or, a real person?Return to Table of Contents