Keen followers of my writing (I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: they are a rarefied species. Ed.) may recall that I recently wrote about my frustrations with Royal Mail and their Track and Trace system.
A week on, and the parcel that I sent has still not been delivered, so I returned to the Royal Mail’s website to see what I should do next. Ideally, what I wanted was to be able to talk to a real person to explain my problem.
At the bottom of the screen was a Contact Us link, which seemed like a good place to start. After negotiating several further screens of FAQs, none of which answered my particular issue, I got to a Still Need Help? Click Here to Get in Touch link. This led to a page, which recommended that my best option was to Call Us. And, following this link, I finally found a phone number for Royal Mail. Apparently, it was going to be better to ring them than to go via the website. Fine.
I crossed to my phone. I rang the number that I had been instructed. After negotiating several obstructive automated options menus, I was finally connected to the line for reporting missing parcels, where an automated message informed me that the average waiting time to speak to anyone was one hour and that I would be better off trying to get in touch online. One hour! The value of the item I had lost in the mail was not worth the cost of an hour’s phone bill.
I put down the phone, and returned to the computer as advised. An online chat option blinked optimistically at me. I wrote in my problem and waited for the chat to begin. My answer came from a Tracking Assistant Bot, which simply spewed forth another automated response advising me to check the FAQs, which would then lead to the Still Need Help? Page, the Call Us link, and from there back to the hour-long wait on the telephone again.
I was trapped between the computer and the telephone in an infinite loop of attrition; each form of communication promising that the other would provide the solution to my woes when, in actual fact, neither did anything.
And Royal Mail is not the only example of this kind of corporate evasion; I ran into exactly the same situation attempting to renew my travel insurance. In fact, most major businesses operate a similar policy of siege mentality regarding their customers, hauling up the drawbridge so that they remain impregnable from complaint or enquiry.
Lockdown has deprived many people of the opportunity for essential day-to-day human contact, but perhaps our isolated bubbles are simply a vision of the lonely, frustrating future where our over reliance on impersonal technology is leading us.
© Simon Turner-Tree
Simon Turner-Tree is trapped in an infinite loop of raging against the machine.