Oracle Scratchpad

April 24, 2011


Filed under: Non-technical — Jonathan Lewis @ 10:56 am BST Apr 24,2011

How to ensure that you never give the wrong answer – as demonstrated by my bank’s telephone help system:

Stage 1 – after calling in through a special high-cost number, of course:

“{long message extolling the virtues of using the bank’s internet system for all your requirements}”

Stage 2 – you wait for the list of options to be recited

“Press 1 for …”
“Press 2 for …”

“Press 9 to speak to a member of the helpdesk”

Stage 3 – you decide the only relevant option is to press 9 to speak to a person:

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you want.” click, brrrrrrrrrrrrr …

Maxim: If you don’t want to fail, don’t even try.


  1. ‘Since we’ve introduced the automated calling system, the number of customer complaints has fallen 70% – a massive improvement in customer satisfaction’.

    Comment by JulesLt — April 24, 2011 @ 12:06 pm BST Apr 24,2011 | Reply

  2. Some of these automated calling systems have a secret handshake to reach a person. Maybe someone has posted online how to do this for you?

    Comment by EzraSF — April 24, 2011 @ 12:11 pm BST Apr 24,2011 | Reply

  3. […] Lewis blogs about as how to ensure that you never give the wrong […]

    Pingback by Log Buffer #217, A Carnival of the Vanities for DBAs | The Pythian Blog — April 25, 2011 @ 4:52 am BST Apr 25,2011 | Reply

  4. But isn’t not trying failing?

    Put UK in the search box:

    Of course, some of their ratings are now a joke:

    That “contact us on the internet” really riles me, especially when I’m on a dying cellphone because their site didn’t work.

    Comment by joel garry — April 26, 2011 @ 12:31 am BST Apr 26,2011 | Reply

    • Joel,

      There’s failure, and there’s changing your mind about how to count failure.

      Interesting website – I’ll keep it bookmarked.

      Comment by Jonathan Lewis — April 26, 2011 @ 8:06 am BST Apr 26,2011 | Reply

  5. Stage 4 – store customer’s caller ID and ensure that he never gets offered option #9 again.

    As ridiculous as it sounds, this happened for real with my mom’s phone provider. The help desk agent kindly asked me for any number where he could reach me in case of a necessary callback. On my next call I got directly to an answering machine with no option to get through to helpdesk. Calling with a different ID, I was able to get back in. Solution: Found and changed to a better provider, told the old one in a letter, told all my friends and fellows, and many of them changed to the other provider as well. It’s the only way to make them understand what customer satisfaction means – so perhaps you’re in need of a better bank?

    Comment by oraculix — April 26, 2011 @ 10:07 am BST Apr 26,2011 | Reply

    • “so perhaps you’re in need of a better bank?”

      Easier said than done, I fear – and there are lots of horror stories about making the change (irrespective of where the change is from and to).

      Here’s a nice little trick my bank plays – whenever my balance goes over a certain amount they send me a letter telling me that they’ve been trying to contact me without success and would I call them. This means I pay for the phone call where they try to sell me something !

      Talking of expensive phone calls – I had a phone call yesterday from someone telling me that my computer was reporting errors to my ISP and some files were corrupted. They wanted me to log on to some website and hand over control through Remote Desktop Connection so that they could fix it for me. (Strange – but when I asked them which files were corrupt they hung up.)

      Comment by Jonathan Lewis — April 27, 2011 @ 4:59 pm BST Apr 27,2011 | Reply

  6. One of my friend who worked for a company responsible for managing a bank’s software told me that these IVRs are designed in a way that they give up after few invalid entries by the user. So after you enter some random numbers few times, the IVR feds up and connects you to the customer care executive ;)

    Comment by Amardeep Sidhu — April 27, 2011 @ 3:56 am BST Apr 27,2011 | Reply

    • Amardeep,

      I’ve found that sometimes that works, sometimes it just hangs up on you.

      Comment by Jonathan Lewis — April 27, 2011 @ 4:55 pm BST Apr 27,2011 | Reply

      • Yea, right !

        But in recent years (at least here in India), under the tag of “no human interaction required” they have tried to increase the number of possible options like anything leaving very little scope/space for you to speak to a customer care exective. You are confused between the given choices and in most of the cases they (almost) all prove to be useless.

        Comment by Amardeep Sidhu — April 28, 2011 @ 11:41 am BST Apr 28,2011 | Reply

  7. I’ve sometimes had luck selecting the option for Spanish. I’ve been told that since these reps are bilingual, they are better compensated and frequently more able/willing to help. Worked great when I had billing issues with a certain three-letter phone company a few years back.

    Comment by Tom Kyle — April 27, 2011 @ 8:58 pm BST Apr 27,2011 | Reply

  8. (obviously my comment is mostly useful for Americans) :^)

    Comment by Tom Kyle — April 27, 2011 @ 8:59 pm BST Apr 27,2011 | Reply

  9. Reminds me of a running joke in my current project’s team: The best bug is a login bug (i.e., preventing users from logging in): As soon as you introduce a login bug, the number of reported bugs in the system drops to one.

    Comment by Flado — April 29, 2011 @ 11:12 am BST Apr 29,2011 | Reply

    • I think it was Cary Millsap who told the tale of a stress test where a few changes to the application code produced a massive performance improvement in the reports from the test engine – which everyone was very pleased with until they realised that the application code changed resulted in a constant stream of very fast “404 page not found” errors.

      Comment by Jonathan Lewis — April 29, 2011 @ 11:38 am BST Apr 29,2011 | Reply

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