Telephone Banking

'Thank you for holding - your call is important to us.'

Azigglyvumezzabank cards here.  Please ring me on 1800 123 456 re your application for our Top People’s Prestige Card.  Ask for extension 78910.  Thank you.

This is a story of modern electronic banking and the quest for humanity within its soulless hi-tech heart.  Names and numbers have been changed as much to protect the author from the litigious wrath of the banking Big Wheels as to spare the sensibilities of the innocent cogs who do their bidding.  The rest is true.

Especially that first bit of the message left on my answering-machine.  That’s exactly what it sounded like.  The rest, though intelligible, was in a thick foreign accent but at least I got the numbers, having after much trial and even more error finally worked out how to save messages for replay. 

Ring number.  Hello.  Welcome to Megabank’s information line.  For a query about our cards press 0.  For a transaction dispute press 1.  For general information about our card services press 2.  For any other query press 3.

Hmm…nothing about getting hold of a particular extension.  So, press 0.  Thank you for ringing our customer service line.  All our customer service officers are busy and your call will be answered shortly.  Muzak.  Dum-de-dum-de-dum….Thank you for waiting patiently.  Please be assured we value your business.  A customer service officer will speak to you soon. 

More muzak.  To improve our service and for training purposes your call may be monitored.  That’s interesting.  Yeh.  No probs with that.  Dum-da-da-da….more muzak.

Hey, says an adjacent human being and potential lunch-partner whom hunger has prompted to enquire of my progress down this tele-financial pathway.  Why didn’t you just dial the extension number they gave you? 

You reckon?  Okay.  Hang up.  Redial 1800 123 456.  Hello.  Welcome to Megabank’s information line….blah blah blah…when to dial the extension number?…….any other query press 3.  Here goes.  Press 3.  Dial extension number……information line.  For a query about our cards press 0…..

Well that didn’t work.  Hang up.  Just dial the extension number straight after the 1800 number, says the visible human.  Worth a try.  Dial very long series of digits.  Check to see they’re correct.  Welcome…click…for queries….click…call may be monitored…click…our customer service line.  A customer service officer will speak to you shortly.  Muzak.  La-la-la…..

….la la la…da dum, da dum….scoobie doobie doo…thank you for waiting so patiently.  Please be assured… yeh, yeh.  Muzak.  More muzak.  More assurances of the value of my business.  More muzak.  HellomegabankcustomerservicelisaspeakinghowmayIHELPyou?

Sit up straight in chair.  A live one!  Um, yes, I’m returning a call about my application for the Top People’s Prestige Card and it said to ring the 1800 number and an extension but I can’t seem to get hold of that extension and…What was the extension number please?  78910.  I’ll just put you through to that number…

Click.  Pregnant pause.  Beep beep beep…..oh no….beep beep beep… this a terminal beep or a meaningful intermission?  ..beep…silence.   Hold breath. 


No mistaking that one.  Hang up.  Sigh.  Hunger duels with incipient, weird, but strengthening compulsion to extract sensible response from Megabank.  Dial 1800 number again.  Thank you for calling blah blah blah..  Hang on – they didn’t say for customer service officer press 0 first up last time, did they?  Check notes.  No, they didn’t.  This is promising. 

Interrupt virtual voice mid-spiel and press 0.  I’ve cracked it now.  Lunch soon.  God I’m hungry.  ..a valid response was not given.  Please try again.  What?!!  Control panic.  What’s the damned digit for the customer service line?  Quick!  3, I think.  I hope.

..for calling our customer service line.  A customer service officer will speak to you soon.  You’re so patient, we value your business, we love you, we’re monitoring your call, don’t you just hate this muzak, actually we’re the Antichrist but you knew that all along, this is a specially devised torment for uppity customers – sorry, clients – who don’t give up first time …speak to you soon.  Muzak. 

Huh?  …arzibazispeakinghowmayIHELPyou?  Pull self together.  Must be the hunger.  Mustn’t lose the plot.  Hello, yes, I tried to ring before on the 1800 number and I want a particular extension but – What number is that please?  NO LISTEN, BEFORE I TELL YOU THAT I HAVE TO TELL YOU LAST TIME I GAVE THE EXTENSION NUMBER I GOT CUT OFF – PLEASE!!

She stops.  She waits.  And listens, grudgingly, in my imagination.  Patiently, if somewhat desperately, I explain about my earlier call.  I explain about Lisa.  I try to express my terror of being cut off and sent to the end of the queue again.  There is a pause.  One moment please, she says.

I am on hold once again, but there is no muzak.  The silence is portentous.  My thoughts drift lunchward once more.  My companion checks his watch.  Suddenly:  AzigglyvumezzabankcardsherehowmayIHELPyou? sings a voice I instantly recognise as the one from my answering-machine.

And that, dear reader, is where the fun really begins for alas, not only does it take Cecilia two goes at it before I’m able to decipher her name, it takes her three goes before she gives up trying to explain the purpose of her original call.  This takes about twenty minutes, a mutually irritating process at the end of which Cecilia elects to send me on up the chain of command to a supervisor.  (I bet they call it ‘on-passing’.)

Which necessitates the inevitable wait on hold, but finally, blessedly I find myself talking to someone who’s able to explain things.  Oh yes, the supervisor knows what she’s talking about alright, which is that I’ve been misinformed right from the start about my entitlements vis-a-vis the Top Peoples’ Card, and I can’t have it.  Well, that is to say I can have it but not if I want to keep my other one and – oh, forget it.  It’s a VERY long story.

You want a happy ending?  Lunch was good.     

This was originally published in The Hobart Mercury some time in the 1990s

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