Monday, July 09, 2007

Conversations with Computers

Part of my job includes chasing up social security issues for clients, particularly age pensions and entitlements, health cards and the like. Centrelink, our fantastic and paradoxically de-centralised social security branch of the Federal Government has one of those fantastic recorded messages that asks you to ‘speak’ into the mouthpiece of your phone so that they can identify your query and move you on to the appropriate department, which again paradoxically is never the most appropriate department. I had a lovely conversation with a nice lady machine this afternoon:

“If you require pensions, say pensions
“If you need to register for Centrelink, say register
“If you need unemployment assistance, say employment””

So says I: “Pensions

She comes back and asks me to identify which pensions I’m after:

“If you have an enquiry about the age pension say age pension
If you are enquiring about a single parenting allowance say single

Again, I comply and say ‘age pension’

So far so good. The last machine like this was at a Share Registry last week. Their lady widget somehow thought that Bluescope Steel sounded EXACTLY like Coles Myer Limited. Needless to say, we had a fight but she retained her compusure and eventually put me through to a real live operator.

Back to Centrelink. After about 5 minutes of Barber’s Adagio with Strings strumming soporifically in my ear, another nice lady comes along and says:

Please say your 9 digit reference number

Well she asked so nicely so obediently, and whilst wiping the dribble from the side of my mouth as I had fallen asleep listening to the adagio, I clearly enunciated “087 465 321B”

Was that “087 465 321P” she asks “If yes, press #”

. . . . "no no no" I yelled down the phone
It’s “087 465 321B” As in bugger, bastard, bum, biatch . . .

“I’m sorry but that number does not exist on our system”

Clunk.

And the reason for the call? Centrelink in their wisdom had revoked our ability to enquire about this client on their behalf because “the client has requested it”.

No they didn’t. It turns out that the nominee authority expires after 3 years and because they don’t have an appropriate form letter to send to nominees notifying them of their need to renew, they send one that simply tells big fibs.

Ah the public service. I think it’s the same around the world.

6 comments:

Kate said...

Oh, my gourd, those automated things make me a wee tiny bit homicidal.

First of all, I have to speak like some people talk to me when they learn that I'm hard of hearing - loudly and slowly with exaggerated lip movements. When it happens to me, I'm tempted (though I rarely give in) to say, "You know, I said I was hard of hearing, not stupid." But those machines? Stupid.

And secondly, let's have a quick chat about the security of making me speak, loudly and slowly, my name, account number, and birthdate out loud. Hmmmmmm?

Argh.

Brianf said...

I absolutely refuse to use those systems. I usually start pressing buttons all willy-nilly or speaking nonsense. I'll repeat what I just posted on another web site.
A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away they had a concept called Customer Service. Not here!

Baino said...

It's annoying isn't it? I used to work for a national policing agency managed by NSW Public Service. Nice 35 hour week, flexi time if you worked over that. Standard tea breaks and lunch. Not one soul in that whole department was 'pushed'. The PS is like a pregnant elephant: It's huge, and it takes 2 years for anything to happen. Fwoooar . . If I ruled the world . . .

Johnny Dodge said...

Man - don't get me started - these 'machines' have one standard reply to anything spoken in an irish accent... "I'm sorry, I didn't understand you" - so at this stage I have to revert to putting on the most stupid kiwi accent I can muster (its pretty darn bad believe me) just so I can get through to some stupid human... who can't help me either...

I miss the days when any problem could be solved by simply petrol bombing it:)

Just caught you on the Jefferson podcast! It was great - well done you and may your podcasting continue evermore:)

Baino said...

Haha . . that's my reply to anyone with an Irish accent! "I'm sorry, could you say that again?"

What is it with you Oirsh and petrol bombs?

Heh Dodge . . .hope you're feeling better, you've been quiet on the ether lately. You'll have to Skype me. It's my new toy!

Yeh, the podcast was surreal. The line was rubbish with delays and breakups and I was very, very nervous but all concerned were very polite and said I sound much younger than I am. I knew I should have lied about my age!

I think if they have the poor taste to ask me back again, I'll be a little calmer. Kudos to JD who did a magnificent editing of two seperate recording sessions. He's a clever little cowboy!

Daz said...

Thank you, I'm from the Civilised
part of Ireland and I'll not have you lumping me in with our brethren from the North. We don't have petrol bombs here.

We have ... em ... pitchfork fights.