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.

65 Comments

  1. I agree; the music can be ignored, but the interruption can’t. I had a call yesterday that interrupted every 30 seconds or less; as you stated, it became annoying. I can understand the music being necessary so that you know you’re still connected, but the interruption is unnecessary.

    However, another interruption that I DID appreciate was telling me what number in line I was; I’d never had that before and I did like knowing that the end was nigh. Or nearly nigh, anyway.

  2. And if they play the hold music loudly, I turn down the volume on my phone, but then I can barely hear when an actual person answers.

  3. I sometimes wonder if those who choose the noise (I daren’t call it ‘music’) ever listen to it themselves.

    My vet clinic puts in little PSAs; I don’t like/need them, but I am glad because if even ONE person thinks something like, ‘Oh yeah, I should start heartworm/flea/tick prophylaxis’, it’s worth being annoyed for those few seconds. Luckily, I do most of my communications with the clinic via email, so I can avoid the ‘on hold’ issue.

  4. Believe me, you are not alone. That and “Please listen carefully as our options have changed”. Even if they haven’t changed in years. Or “An agent will be with you shortly”. What exactly does “shortly” mean because it seems pretty arbitrary.

  5. What I find really annoying is when the “music” is seriously distorted, staticky and frankly unlistenable. We live in this high-tech world and you can’t even come up with a decent digital recording? But at the other end, I still remember being put on hold at a software help desk once, and they played serious classical music. I was so stunned I still remember it today. (The bummer was that the guy cut in right in the middle of a really nice section of music.)

    Giving your place in the queue can be helpful. Last week I was trying to reach a certain help line and was told I was 94th in queue. I waited for the next announcement to see how fast things were moving, and I was still 94th. I hung up, which is probably the desired effect on their part.

  6. Three truisms:
    1. The call is always “very important to us.”
    2. The menu options have always recently changed.
    3. They are always experiencing higher than normal call volume.

  7. The other thing, besides what number in the queue I was, was the option to have a callback. Believe me, if I’d been #94, I’d’ve taken that option. However, I was #4, so it was worth it to wait.

    All these great options, for a garbage collection company . . . I’d not have expected such consideration, for some reason. Why bigger companies can’t do this, I don’t know.

    And ditto on the distorted, jazzy music.

  8. I got pleasantly surprised last month calling my mother’s bank fairly late in the evening – I thought her debit card might have been compromised by a payment to a dodgy site* so I wanted to alert the bank. After a couple of inevitable menu items (press one or three etc on your phone, plus entering the card number and other account details so they knew who they were dealing with) I got straight through to a real person, who had by then presumably got the account history up, and when I mentioned the issue immediately said “I’ll cancel her card and issue a new one”. No music or delay, bish bash bosh, straight in.

    But that is unusual, an exception that proves the general rule.

    *I was SORNing her car, which had failed its MOT catastrophically and needs to be scrapped. The MOT is the annual compulsory UK Ministry of Transport vehicle check, and SORN is the Statutory Off Road Notification you make if you want to stop paying vehicle tax for a period for some reason (but you have to keep the car on private land and absolutely not drive it anywhere). You can SORN a vehicle online with the government for free in just a few moments, and I had even pre-checked the govt site a day or two before.

    But when it came to going ahead with it I accidentally got onto another site that LOOKED like the government site, but charged a small fee, which I then unthinkingly paid. Only a few minutes afterwards, after getting an ad for car scrapping services, did it occur to me I had made a blunder. Probably my mother’s card was not going to be compromised – they make their money from the unnecessary fee (and really do the SORN notification for you) rather than actually stealing information, I guess – but best to be on the safe side.

    This semi-scammy website came top of the Google search return, though I can’t replicate the results at the moment. I did complain to Google via one of their complaints pages, so maybe that had an effect.

  9. Andréa, I was seconding your displeasure at the frequent interruptions and approval of the place-in-line messages. For Chak, I agree that the music is often way too loud vis-a-vis the eventual voice communication. For Mark, it was the smarmy text of some answerbots.

  10. The comic is all too accurate. If my call were important to them, they’d hire enough phone operators that they could answer it in a reasonable amount of time.

  11. I believe the point of the interruptions (beyond the ones that try to sell you stuff) is so people don’t feel abandoned. Having said that, I hate ’em as much as y’all do. The ideal ACD would:
    1) Give you an estimated wait time
    2) Offer you a choice of silence of music type
    3) Offer you a callback instead
    4) Tell you to press ANY key to change those options at any point

    Hey, I can dream, right?

  12. Back in the 1990s, before purchasing airline tickets on the interwebs was very much of a thing, Southwest Airlines had a few interruptions that were genuinely funny/creative. The best of these was:

    If you have been on hold for a while, try pressing 8. It won’t do any good, but it might make you feel better. You can press 8 as many times as you like. Your call is important to us … etc.., etc., etc.

  13. What gets me after sitting for an eternity listening to tinny musak and random announcements is when you finally get ahold of someone then suddenly get disconnected and have to start the whole process over again.

    The Canada Revenue Agency is notorious for this (with me, anyway). It’s like they don’t want my money.

  14. Hear, hear for Steve #3. I tried calling a company about my dead dryer today – they said they were experiencing higher call volumes because of Covid. What that has to do with appliances is beyond me.
    I like nice classical music, but my broker has blaring triumphant military music that repeats every 30 seconds or so.
    Social Security, by the way, has long queues but does callbacks, and it works.

  15. @narmitaj, I’m acting as executor of my late friend Richard’s estate. I had to render his car legally undrivable so the estate did not have to pay for insurance, and would not be legally liable if it were stolen. In New York, this requires physically surrendering the license plates at a state Department of Motor Vehicles office. The UK system sounds easier.

    @Scott, I read an article about appliance repair in the Plague Year. Turns out people are in fact wearing out their dryers and other stuff more, because they are both at home more, and there’s a false tendency to think better hygiene (like washing clothes more) will protect from SARS-CoV-2. (Non-respiratory infection is apparently rare. And by that, I mean we have evidence of one time it ever happened on the planet.)

  16. I have mixed feelings when the music is something I like and sometimes even get emotionally invested in. Then when it is used for hold music, do I want to listen actively, or do I want it to be interrupted so I can complete my business?

  17. I empathize with Dana’s point. But I would generally just steel myself against getting into the music, knowing it is slated to be rudely interrupted any minute. And that each minute of enjoyment at the music continuing has to be another minute of frustration at not being able to conclude the business.

  18. Scott: “higher call volumes due to COVID” means one or both of:
    1) People are stuck at home and are taking advantage of that time to make calls on their todo lists
    2) Call centers are short-staffed because folks are sick (which really means “our caller-to-rep ratio is higher than usual”, but that’s the same thing from a relativistic perspective)

    My daughter learned early on that “Your call is very important to us” really means “Your call is NOT very important to us, or we’d staff the ****ing lines well enough that you wouldn’t be on hold forever”. AKA “Your call is not very important to us, and will be ignored in the order in which it was received”!

  19. I remember being on hold for Microsoft support sometime back around ’92 or so. Besides the fact that the hold music wasn’t staticy yet, they appeared to have a live DJ. Between the songs, the guy would come on the line and do the “slightly-over-the-top-yet-polished radio announcer traffic reporter” voice and talk about the wait queues as if it were the local traffic.

    “That was ‘When I Think of You’, by Janet Jackson. Meanwhile the hold time for Outlook is 28 minutes. The queue for Windows is 64 minutes…..”

    Also, Tom Scott has a video on why the hold music sounds worse now. https://youtu.be/w2A8q3XIhu0

  20. This was a Laugh-Out-Loud cartoon for me.

    Do you see those two spots on the man’s forehead? I’m pretty sure that they’re meant to be age spots, but I immediately saw them as the man’s eyes. The fact that these “eyes” are misaligned, along with the contrast of the man’s glasses (making them look like they’re peeking over the glasses), gives the man an appearance of looking quite exasperated.

    Those “eye dots” made the cartoon even funnier, in my opinion.

  21. At first I misread the caption as: “…Please stay on the line until your call is no longer important to us.”

    It was still funny. (Try it out for a slightly different joke, and see if you agree.)

  22. One local supermarket chain has adopted the song below as kind of a theme. It’s also what they would play when you were on hold for the pharmacy[1]. Just that. Over and over.

    They recently sold the pharmacy to CVS so it’s not clear if you’d get the same experience. I don’t use their pharmacy anymore.

  23. The brick-and-mortar equivalent of “Your call is important to us” is “For your convenience.” As in “For your convenience, we will no longer be open on Wednesdays or Saturdays.”

  24. Carl Fink: apparently in New York if your plates are stolen and thus can’t be returned to the DMV, you have to continue to pay for insurance. Even if the reason the plates were stolen is that the car was totalled while parked on the street.

  25. The problem with PSAs is that there aren’t enough of them. If I hear an announcement that might be useful to somebody, OK, I’m fine with that. When I’ve heard all five or so announcements three or four times each, ARRRGH!

  26. Of course, we all know that if our calls were actually important to them (a) they’d staff the call centers appropriately (b) they’d tell you estimated wait time (c) they’d offer a callback option (d) they’d not have those announcements, which are actually designed to get you to decide to abandon your complaint and decide it isn’t worth it, and (e) when you get a customer service rep, they actually have authority to solve your problem, rather than give you yet another number to call (or they “transfer” you into a number that’s never actually picked up).

  27. I just went through hell with Optimum, the cable company I have no choice but to deal with; what was truly amazing and shows their total disregard for their customers, was the night and day difference between “support” and “sales”: I made the mistake of going through support first, and aside from useless phone menu loops and having you enter account numbers that I didn’t have, and before anything else, trying to upsell you onto their mobile service (which apparently is a new thing they do now, so everyone gets the ad first thing), they couldn’t actually help with the issue I was calling about, and they were unable to give me the simple piece of advice “you need to talk to sales, let me transfer you”, no! They keep insisting I provide information I don’t have to them, ignore the information I do have, and when I start to get frustrated, just hang up on me. Also, they were clearly offshore bulk “support” reading from scripts.
    When I called sales, however, I was immediately connected with a native speaker in the US; she was instantly able to see what my issue was and had the actual information at her finger tips.
    When you are already a customer, they don’t care; when you are a potential customer, they roll out the red carpet.
    %#$@ Optimum; @$%! all cable companies.
    (My issue still wasn’t resolved, because although the sales rep was able to set me up almost with everything I needed, to actually connect the cable box I needed to talk to tech support… I begged her if she could do what was needed, but apparently once I’m this far into the system, I’m a customer, so !@#$ me — they apparently purposely make sure the helpful sales rep can’t resolve my problem. I called tech, was hung up on twice, and the last guy, I’ll give him credit, he was solicitous and tried to the utmost, but in the end explained that he was hampered and only could do so much, and he had to transfer me — to sales. Which was closed by now. !@#$ Optimum.)

  28. A few hours ago, Hubby found that someone had charged something to his credit card and it was canceled; when he called to get this taken care of, the card number was no longer valid when he put it in, because it had been canceled because . . . well, you get the [loopy] idea.

    I always just press ‘0’ and hope it connects to a person. Sometimes it does; many times it doesn’t.

  29. One of the oddest experiences I had with Charter was when I was having some problem. I had called a few times and tried the things they suggested without success. I at it again, and things went a bit wonky with phone system. After bouncing around, the phone rang for a bit, then a guy picked up and said something like “tech”. I explained that I had been trying to get support for a problem and ended up there. He asked what the trouble was, and after I detailed it, he said, “Yeah I know that is. Do this this and this.” He was right, fixed it.

  30. narmitaj – Early in the pandemic I was trying to reach our credit card banks to check on how much we owed them (our mail was going to our PO box and they were unable to forward it to us – and even when I got that straightened out – much of our mail disappeared). I decided to wait – I called at 12:10 am and the call went right through.

    Using logic I had figured out that since I was calling a US toll free number that the later I called at night – the fewer people in the US were awake to try to reach the number. I continued to make calls around this time and found it worked well at getting through to companies while they were swamped with calls. I spoke to an employee at one company in Hawaii one night.

  31. larK –

    You mean the cable and Internet company which has to reboot it’s cable boxes daily (I figure out we lose an hour and a half of service of monthly on each box due to same -if the reboots all work on the first try and often they don’t) and who, since they started charging a fee for their increased speeds in their Internet service – has slower Internet service?

    In mid September while running through the channels I found out by noticing a notice on their TV channel listing page that our cable package no longer existed (as of a couple of weeks before) and that we would charged separately now for the premium channels in our former package – done with no prior notice (I read ALL the info they send us as I don’t trust them) and in the middle of the pandemic

  32. NYS DMV –

    A former commander of our reenactment unit registered the unit’s utility trailer with the DMV. Somehow they told him to register it to the township we are loosely associated with as it would cost less and not need to be renewed. We did not find this out until Robert became commander some years ago. On and off I have been trying to get the registration corrected to the unit’s name. I had trouble finding out what to do – and my letter to the state Commissioner took over a year and a lot of phone calls to get an answer as the position was vacated (thinking back I think she died). It involved two of our officers going to DMV – one signed the registration over to the other name and the other signed it as the officer of the unit. At that time that meant Robert – commander and me – paymaster general (treasurer). In the interim we got a new commander and have been trying to get together before all of this) to get it fixed.

    Then the need for a new trailer got worse and it was decided that we would buy a new trailer with new plates and then deal with getting rid of the old plates. Different members of the board have been told different information about whether or not we need to get insurance for the trailer. From what Robert and I read online we do not – but one member was told (supposedly by the trailer dealer looking to sell him/us a trailer) that not only did we need insurance the trailer and insurance had to be in the same name as the owner of the car towing it which is not mentioned anywhere on their website or in past conversations anyone has had with them.

    I was in the middle of trying to get the correct information about this by email and was told to call DMV instead in their reply when they shut down due to the coronavirus. I now have to start all over again. Unit is a 501(c)(3) state education corporation and is not commercial and for the size trailer we are looking at, their website says that only commercial owned trailers need insurance.

  33. Meryl: yeah. #^@! Optimum.
    It ended up taking more than 5 hours over two days to get my very simple problem resolved — often deep into a call they would put me on hold and then it would get disconnected, and I had to start all over. The last sales rep I talked to before she transferred me to the tech agent who was finally able to get the issue done to the end tried to upsell me to their mobile phone service (they are all under orders to push this service, when you call them at any number, you are forced to listen to an ad pushing the service even before you get to the “press 1 for English”, which means that they are wasting a lot of Spanish speaking people’s time AND missing out on upselling them…)
    “I know you said you didn’t want internet [for the basic cable service I am forced to pay for with my building’s maintenance which I’m trying to get to be activated], but what about mobile service — who is your current carrier?” This after being on the phone and on hold with her for at least 45 minutes at the tail end of my two day, 5 hour ordeal. I laid into her — two day, five hours, just to get the cable service I am forced to pay for with the building’s bulk deal working and you have the temerity to suggest I free-willingly sign up for additional “service” from you guys?? The NERVE! There is no way in HELL!”
    Yeah, @$! Optimum, Altice, or whatever the hell they wanna call themselves.

  34. Couldn’t you have done this via internet? No lines, no waiting. I can’t remember the last time I used phone to contact a bank or credit card company.

  35. HA-ha-ha-ha-ha!! I couldn’t even get most tech support, talking to real, live, (and you would hope but often be disappointed) thinking human beings to direct me in the right direction (talk to sales) because I did not have an account number because that was the very thing I was calling to establish — their scripted chain is so inflexible that more than 50% of thinking breathing human beings are unable to break it to direct me where I needed to go because I couldn’t fill in all the required blanks in their form. Then they deliberately cripple their system so that most reps are unable to do the very thing I needed done on their own, which is why I’d so often get put on hold and then be disconnected, as they tried to work up the food chain and at some point bungle the connection. The otherwise helpful first sales lady who understood exactly what I was trying to do and who could see my disassociated cable box was nevertheless unable to assign that cable box to my account — that had to be done by tech, who almost never were able to understand what I needed done. It was a Kafkaesque nightmare…
    The problem is that yes, 99% of all service requests could be done automatically by robots, and so they train their support to be robots, but for those 1% of things that actually require a real, live, thinking human beings, they no longer have those, and have no process anymore for that. (Although, really, the thing I needed done shouldn’t have been in the 1%, it too should be automatic, but they don’t care to invest in making it so — free cash cow, bulk deals with buildings — free money every month, a large portion of the “customers” don’t really want or use the service, don’t care if it’s not working, so you know, screw ’em! Free money! It’d be such a pain in the ass for them to have to figure out how to solve the edge cases like when units change hands, and it happens relatively rarely, so you know, screw ’em! Free money!)

  36. A lot of my health care “paperwork” and communications is handled via an online system called My Chart. I used to be able to exchange actual email with my primary care physician (and in fact we would be at addresses on the same edu domain). But MyChart supercedes that with a “send message to your physician” tool, with some prefab topic classifications. They also have a “Your to-do list” and let the patient to some extent mark things as done — but there is no provision for patient input to things like vaccination / immunizations list.

    So, for several years now, I have been getting my flu shots at Jewel / Osco (pharmacy department at a large grocery store). Used to be I would send my GP an email saying I had done that, where and when, and which version of the vaccine it was; and “please add this to my records”. And I would get a return email saying “Done!” and some stay-healthy message.

    Then direct email was blocked, but I used the messaging within My Chart. The return message came from the nurse / assistant, but was friendly and said it had been recorded. And in a couple days, the immunizations history accessible to me on MyChart (as read-only) would reflect it. And the to-do item would be cleared.

    This year, I sent the same sort of message, and the nurse / assistant replied that they needed the Lot number. I replied that I didn’t have the lot number, but made a case that she should record it anyway — why have the incorrect info on record that I did not get a flu shot in 2020? She replied that it wasn’t her choice to make it difficult, the system was not accepting her input without a lot number. I replied that yes, I followed the reasoning she had written out as to why the lot number was important, but I still didn’t have it. A few days later I got a note from the GP just asking, did I confirm I got the quadrivalent flu shot on Sept 10? I confirmed, and it showed up later — I guess there is a physician’s override somewhere in the system.

    It was more amusing than seriously frustrating, as I didn’t actually have much at stake. But it suggested the bureaucratic hurdles there might be when I really wanted or needed something thru the system.

  37. Mitch4: My health care folks are also on MyChart, and I’m having the same irritation with it (difficulty of communicating without multiple hoop jumping, and some hoops are missing and others ill-defined) that you do. I’d go into detail but having just had a couple of recent runarounds I don’t want to relive it.

    As I’ve said several times (probably here, for one) my favorite “contradiction in terms” phrase is not “tight slacks or hot chili” but rather “new and improved.”

  38. Mitch4: I tried to get a flu shot and got a “third party reject information” form saying that Medicare rejected it because “Name does not match Medicare records.” It told me to call SSA (Social Security Administration) at a certain phone number. I did, and they said “Why are you calling Social Security for a Medicare issue?”

    Also, your Garfield strip looks like a common bit in Candorville. Oh, wait, Andréa already noticed that.

  39. Neither Robert or I trust doing anything financial online. We don’t feel it is safe enough – and this way when we get emails “from” our bank we know that they are fake.

    Since March (due to our mail problems – not being able to have mail forwarded from our PO box at first, finally giving in and changing addresses (though there is always one we missed and the PO our box is at actually returned 2 items to NYS tax and one to a credit card co, though the forwards were in place for all of them – and this was after the original problem was resolved – which led me to send change addresses for our business and the 2 clubs of which I am treasurer to IRS and NYS as all went to the box. We are missing 15 bank statements among all of these and us. I did try to set up my embroidery guild chapter’s account for access online as they told me I had to pay for copies of the missing statements if I didn’t come in for them – after a week of trying to get it set up, I gave up – the first statement I received was out by approximately what the interest would have been over the missing statements so I am presuming they are correct. At first it would not take the Federal ID number of the chapter. Then the account was setup and they sent me a password to start using it – at 9pm on a Friday night and it was good for an hour. I finally got a replacement password and I went to use it, it told me that the phone number I put in to confirm was wrong. I went through every phone number I could think of – mine, the google one for the club, my cell number (which I don’t give out), the magic jack number Robert has for his counseling business… I even remembered that for a short while I had a separate phone number for my accounting business and went back through about a decade of saved letter files to find my old letterhead – that number did not work either and I gave up on the idea of using it. I called again when I had a chance to get some info I needed, I explained about all this and confirmed the phone number on file with them – and it was the original phone number. Not going to try that again.

    I use Quicken and have all the bills/direct deposits memorized and set up for reminders. I am printing out a month and a half’s worth at start and middle of months to keep track of what we have received and what we have not. Throw in that since we no longer go daily to the PO to our box, we are posting mail once a week – generally Sunday nights – at a box Robert found in a quiet neighborhood and we go out after 11:30 pm so no one is about. The biggest problem I have is with, yes, Optimum. They must send their bills just a week before they are due. We actually tried downloading the bills, but even there the bills apparently show up a bit late for us right now and we underpaid the bill by some odd cents.

    Problem I have been having since our phone lines were changed from copper wire to fiber optic (against our will) occurs when I call a credit card co to check the balance (generally checking the balance is zero and we did not forget using it as we are using different cards differently than normal) or I call Optimum, or other utilities to double check while I wait for the bill to come. I call up and get the info through their computer with the phone. After I get the info I need (balance if any and when it due) I hang up. I have done this since March – no problems. Since the change in the phone lines when I hang up – almost instantly our phone rings and when I pick it up the recorded message that I was listening to is still playing on it – or there is no one there. Robert looked it up online (after I did this so he would understand what I was talking about) and it is a problem with Optimum and is called ring back. When I can I will call them and ask them about it – well, complain about it – but since when I called to set up the appointment for the changeover the half hour hold the computer told me, was actually over an hour and a half, I have to wait until I can sit there waiting to get through – and I was calling then at their request not mine.

  40. I’ve been looking for this since this thread started.

    You’ve reached the City Center Mental Health Clinic. We can’t take your call right now.

    If you are obsessive compulsive, press one repeatedly.

    If you are co-dependent, ask someone to press two for you.

    If you have multiple personalities, press three, four, five and six.

    If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line and we’ll trace your call.

    If you are delusional press 7 and your call will be transferred to the mother ship.

    If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a small voice will tell you which number to press.

    If you are depressive, it doesn’t matter which number you press, no one will answer you.

    If you’re dyslexic, press 696969.

    If you have a nervous disorder, please fidget with the pound key until the beep. After the beep, please wait for the beep.

    If you have short term memory loss please try your call again later.

    If you have low self-esteem, hang up. All our operators are too busy to talk to you.

  41. I have this on the house music system. Of course, when it comes on, the dogs think there’s someone in the house who shouldn’t be, and barkbarkbark.

    No matter how many times I’ve listened to it, I still laugh ev’ry time.

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