Your call is very important to us [OT]

When I’m on hold, if they play some bland, inoffensive music, I can put my headset on, and ignore it for hours, as I work, read e-mails, etc… A long wait can be a little annoying, but it’s not really a big deal.

If they interrupt the music to tell me “your call is very important to us” I can’t ignore the interruption. Having a person “talking” to me jolts me to attention, and disrupts me from whatever else I’m trying to do. It doesn’t make me feel like my call is important to them; it just makes me more aware of how long I’ve been on hold, and increases my annoyance. And if I’m on hold for 45 minutes, and the music is interrupted every 35 seconds to tell me that my call is very important to them, that shifts from annoying to maddening. (You may begin to guess that these numbers are not arbitrary, but based on a recent experience.)

Anyway, this is not (just) a rant, but a genuine question: What’s the point of interrupting the call like that? Is my reaction atypical? It seems “obvious” that this is annoying, and will not endear the company to me. But almost every company in the world does it (albeit not with 35 second intervals), and it would be easy enough not to, so my guess is that there’s some logic behind it that I’m not seeing.


  1. I guess we’ve pretty often commented on how online advertising will target you on an erratic basis, e.g. for a product you’ve just bought. Today I’ve been getting ads for Harry’s shaving products , and it must be because yesterday I visited their web site to put my subscription on hold.

  2. mitch4: Only tangentially related, but I work in information retrieval/natural language processing, and one regular problem retrieval systems has is understanding the importance of the word “not.”

    search: Which American presidents were not married?
    document: A list of married U.S. presidents whose wives were particular influential
    algorithm: Hey, it’s almost a perfect match! It’s just missing a “not.”

  3. It’s also highly disturbing sometimes that an overt negation can be simply, totally omitted in casual usage.

  4. Oh, yes another fun problem for natural language processing is sarcasm. e.g. Detecting whether a movie review is positive or negative. “What a great movie!” or “A great movie if you’re a fan of random, senseless plot twists, and meandering story lines.”

  5. Someone (maybe even someone here) noted that there is apparently a “rule” that a double negative means a positive (You cannot NOT want to do this) but that there are incorrectly supposedly no examples of a double positive meaning a negative (to which the riposte zinger is “Yeah, SURE.”)

  6. I had a runaround from two phone companies once, each of them passing me off to the other. Then I went to the school legal aid office, and she needed the address of one of them. When I called them and told them my lawyer wanted their address, suddenly the problem was resolved (she sent the letter anyway) and I got about half of my money back.

  7. Chak, I once wrote an article for a French magazine. I told my contact that I didn’t know any French, and he assured me that that was fine. But when the time came to get paid, that contact was gone, and replaced with a new one who said she couldn’t speak or read English, and thus “sadly,” was unable to explain why I hadn’t been paid. After several months of this I said that I was contacting my lawyer (a bluff), at which point she wrote me a nice e-mail in English saying that they had just fixed the problem and were sending payment.

  8. CVS/Caremark texted:

    Mitchell, Rx __ is ready for pickup at CVS Pharmacy 1228 E. 53RD ST., CH NOTE We close for lunch 1:30-2PM. CA & IL may differ.

    “CA & IL may differ.” No kidding! The lunchtime pharmacy closure at THIS STORE is 12:30 to 1:00. The system manages localization well enough to identify the store that has my prescription, and insert their address — why does it revert to nationwide generalization for the lunch closure info?

  9. For several weeks, the taped message for my Walgreen’s location read in part (after telling me my stuff would be ready tomorrow): “Tomorrow we are open from [three seconds of dead air] until [three seconds of dead air]. Press ‘1’ if you would like us to repeat that information.”

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