Living with Aphasia
Chopping Down the Telephone Tree
After three recent telephone calls that were very frustrating, I had one of those “Wild: Out of the Blue Thoughts.” What if George Washington had chopped down his father’s telephone tree instead of his father’s cherry’ tree?
Telephone trees are those automated response systems that you get when you call many businesses or professional offices. You know the ones, where a very polite individual with either a very pleasant or super business-like voice says, “Please listen to the following options and select the most appropriate. If you want information about XYZ, press 1; if you want information about PQR, press 2; if you want information about ABC, press 3; and usually after what seems to be half an hour, if you want to speak to an operator, press 0. Even before my aphasia, I had problems with these telephone trees. Many times, I had difficulty in relating my problem to the options provided, so most of the time I would dutifully press 0. After my aphasia I have two new problems: 1) I can’t follow the options. I don’t understand what they are saying as they are saying them; and 2) by the time the list is finished, I can’t remember what number corresponded with what option. For awhile I tried writing down the options as they were listed. However, on many of these trees the speed at which the list was given was way too fast for me to follow and write down an intelligible note with corresponding number from the telephone pad. To get the list repeated, I couldn’t remember what number to push. I tried a plan that was suggested to me by a friend who said he had discovered a way around these telephone trees. He said he always punches in 0 repeatedly, as soon as the list starts and continues to press 0 until a real live person speaks on the other end of the phone. Before all of you start following this plan, the telephone companies are smart enough to know what people are doing, so they have recommended businesses change-up their options on their trees, sometimes even removing 0 as a viable alternative altogether.
Before everyone accuses me of hating all telephone trees, I will admit that there have been several times during my 40 years as an academic administrator that I have implemented them in offices that I was supervising. In each of these cases it was to ease the workload of an overworked receptionist who would have had to divert her attention from the steady stream of live students that had come into the office for service. Who do you want to offend the most, the student standing right in front of you or the individual on the phone that you can’t see and who can’t see you? The purpose of the tree was to direct calls to an appropriate person to handle the question, or in off-hour times when the office was closed, to get the customers to the appropriate answering machine or voice mail so that their question could be answered quickly the next time the office was opened. When we set up those phone trees, we tried to make them very simple and short with no more than 3 options, not like some of the ones that I have encountered recently. On one call last week, there were 8 options, not counting the option of talking to an operator which was option 7. If you pushed 0 on that tree, the list of options started all over again. “AHA, Tricky, we got you!”
I am convinced that some of these telephone trees would not pass muster with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Where’s George when you need him?