Thank You for Your Patience
Unidentified Woman: Please continue to hold.
SCOTT SIMON, host:
My wife is an accomplished, brilliant and funny woman who cares for our family full-time. But when people ask, what you do, she wants to say, I spend most of my time on hold. I think many people feel that way. A month ago, we signed up to combine our Internet and telephone service. The company promised no interruption. For the past three weeks we have had no telephone or Internet service. Now, this is not the same as going without food or water. But for three weeks it has been missing calls from friends and family, the details of a wedding, and the fact that our daughter cannot tickle Elmo on the Sesame Street Web site.
We've kept calm. This week alone, my wife and I have spent about 13 hours on mobile phones with this company - most of it on hold - hearing a recorded voice declare, we're rated number one in customer satisfaction. Where? Albania? Thirteen hours is almost two days of work.
A man can fly from Chicago to Vladivostok in 13 hours. He can orbit the Earth eight times in 13 hours. This complaint is provoked by a communications company. It could just as well be any airline, hospital, health insurance, delivery, repair or cable company.
Americans spent a lot of time these days just waiting for customer care, a delivery or call-back. People take time off to wait for someone to fix their oven or deliver a new refrigerator. Does any crew ever show up on the day and hour promised?
There's always a call saying, we've had a problem and have to reschedule. Does anyone ever get their lost luggage returned within the time promised and without being left to dangle on hold for a human voice?
I spoke with someone in the industry this week who explained that companies try to employ the minimum number of people on a shift that they can to answer calls or make repairs. Keeping down operating costs allows companies to spend less money, which keeps down the cost of their service, which should lower prices for customers.
The cost of saving money is often time, and companies have learned that someone who waits on hold for 20 minutes to plead for help will probably hold for an hour. They've already wasted so much time. They work hard and may not get another chance to call, and what else can they do? Their refrigerator is broken, they have no phone or their luggage is lost and the company has charged their credit card. If they hang up in frustration, that's just one less complaint.
We often see studies that show how much money American businesses lose each year to absenteeism, illness, alcoholism or pilferage. I wonder how much time Americans lose each year - hours they could spend playing with their children, reading a book, even talking to each other instead of the customer care department in Tamil Nadu because companies have misdirected, disconnected or neglected them, leaving them to languish on hold.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. ANGELA LANSBURY: Don't you know, silly man, half the fun is to plan the plan. All good things come to those who can wait...
SIMON: Angela Lansbury, and this is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.