I Hate That Machine

I received a call from an old business associate recently who wanted to talk about a piece in Today’s Machining World. It was a pleasant enough conversation, but all I could think about was his voice. He sounded so old.

I realized that I make so many judgments on what people sound like and how they choose their words. Last night my wife wasn’t feeling well and she was expressing her sinus misery not in what she said, but in her intonation. When kids walk into the classroom, a teacher sets the mood and tone with the first utterance.

We are wired and conditioned from birth to catch the meaning of sounds—not necessarily the words—but the sounds.

A business does itself harm if it neglects its phone greeting. I despise the canned greeting that is endemic today. You’ve alienated me the moment I hear it. But just as grating to me is listening to a tone-deaf human being. I think most people do not know how they sound on the phone. They miss the vibe they give off.

Speaking and listening skills can be taught. A business that cares about its clients’ reactions can coach its team. A doctor can rehearse her bedside demeanor. I’ll never forget observing a doctor rushing into a surgical waiting room and virtually shouting to an anxious family, “We found cancer!” There’s a better way.

I believe that business gravitates to energy and joy. If you compare the happy voices you hear when you take a Southwest Airlines flight to the bored and sullen voices on a U.S. Air or United flight, you can see part of why Southwest thrives and the others struggle.

Setting a mood and tone is ultimately each person’s responsibility in developing relationships. I am going to make a conscious effort to listen very critically to myself and ask my associates to give me honest feedback on the vibe I give off to them.

Question: Does a canned phone greeting and menu irritate you? Does it make you want to hang up the phone?

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14 thoughts on “I Hate That Machine

  1. Rob

    I really hate those “pick the number of the week” greetings. I usually hang up and see if the company has an e-mail address that I can use to make contact.

    I am sad to say that about three years ago the company decided to layoff our receptionist. Since then I have had several complaints from customers about not reaching the right people or “the system” not taking messages.

    Companies need to get back to have a real person with charisma answering the phones and greeting people when they enter the front door.

  2. Diane Haberer

    Yes, it is very annoying and makes me want to hang up. It is esp.annoying when they have about 3 or more tables (push 1, push 2 etc.) to go through to get where you want and most times if you hit “0” it disconnects you. I answer every phone call in a bright cheery voice even if I am upset or angry about something at the office. I am always polite. I have received many complements on my “phone voice” and our customers really like the fact that a real person answers the phone and can answer most of their questions and/or concerns. Give me a person every time please!

  3. Cynthia Lombardo

    I agree that dial by number is impersonal and sets a tone for the business. Some companies try to save money by using the virtual receptionist, but unintentionally loose business in the process.

  4. Richard Seeley

    “Talk by number” is the most unpleasant experience a customer can have. People as our receptionist if we have phone mail. “No, we don’t.” she says, “I personally make sure your message gets to the person you want to speak to an I make sure your call gets returned.”

    I have heard a million times how almost every customer we have appreciates that a person is helping them and not a machine. When Debbie retires I know it will be a great loss to our company and more to our clients. I refuse to put in answering machines and phone trees in my company. Yeah, it costs money, but I love to hear a human voice knowing that my request will be “personally” handled. You bet!

  5. G Kleine

    Try calling companies like ATT where you have to input 82 selections before you get to a human being and then find out that human being is the wrong human being and then they give you ANOTHER 800 number to dial only to go thru their entire menu again….

  6. Emily Aniakou

    A friend of mine who works in a parts department is so great on the phone that people ask for her all the time and are frustrated when she’s out of the office. It’s not just the greeting, which she’s great at, but she can read into what people want – sometimes they want to chat, other times it’s all business. She goes with the flow. I think the awkwardness of most phone conversations is why so many people prefer texting now days.

  7. Foxyjosh

    Push uno for Espagnol, Press 2 for English.
    I want to scream when I hear that. The reason call trees were invented is so customers learn to live with the problem and not to bother the company.

    Too bad for them, when I hear that I don’t purchase their product anymore.

  8. Deborah Rudy

    I hate those automated phone systems. They are impersonal and express that my call “isn’t very important” to the company. On the other hand, I also find it offensive when the receptionist answers, and when I ask for the person to whom I’d like to speak, they ask me “may I tell him/her what this is regarding”. Screening calls this way is almost worse than the automated system. If I wanted to tell the receptionist my business, I would have called him/her. When my ex-husband used to get a receptionist who asked the “what is this in regards to” question, he used to reply, “tell him I want to talk to him about the truth.” Not very pleasant, but he swore it was effective. His calls were always put through. I don’t mind leaving a voice mail message for someone. That way, the message is left with exactly the information I want to give the person I’m calling, without a receptionist paraphrasing, and inadvertently misinterpreting the information. I do like to get to the receptionist first.

    My husband, who is also a CEO (like you are Lloyd) always gives people his direct number. If someone calls who doesn’t have his number, even a “cold caller” stockbroker, the receptionist is instructed never to screen his calls…everyone gets put through to him. That’s company policy. He figures that’s the least he can do when anyone takes the time to call him or anyone who works for him.

  9. bill lambert

    I will try to use a company that does not have a phone tree . Because I feel like that if they do they don’t want to talk to me or want my business.

  10. Ellen Shofler

    I’m one of those companies that just switched from a live person picking up the phone to a voice mail system. I don’t have a dedicated person to answer the phone, just 2-3 employees who literally run for it from the shop floor if no one is in the office to pick it up. We had so many messages that had bad numbers, bad names “Rob vs. Bob” etc. that we felt a voice mail system would be more effective, get them to the right person without a long hold time and they could leave a message that we could return (caller ID) and we have had very positive response to it. No, I still think it’s impersonal but it does a better job of routing the call and taking the message than the actual people did. Maybe if I could afford to pay someone to just answer the phones for us we wouldn’t have needed to go that way, but in our shop we need all employees to be productive and a dedicated receptionist just didn’t fit into the budget. Sad but true. So don’t hang up on the little companies just because a live person didn’t answer the phone, we are out in the shop working our butts off and we promise we will call you back!!!

  11. TM

    One think that has always bugged me, is when I call my doctors office and listen for the options. I’m ok with the “if your’e a doctor being a head of the patient, but the patient option is about the ninth choice (I think after drug salesmen). I’m the customer darn it. Treat me like one, not a billable item.

  12. Jim

    Since I answer the phones for my company I would like to say it is only courteous for the caller to provide their name or the company they represent. We are a small company and we work as a TEAM. I rarely ask why you are calling ‘so and so’, but I find it rude when a caller can’t tell you who they are after being asked. 90 percent of the time people who do not care to leave a message or who they work for are a solicitor

    When ‘so and so’ is extremely busy I can save all involved time and effort if the caller is direct and briefly explains what they need if asked. Many times ‘so and so’ will be asking me the answer to your question and you will be talking to me anyway. GO FIGURE ;0)

  13. Bill Hopcraft

    An answering machine doesn’t bother me a bit, as long as I’m able to quickly leave a message for whomever I’m trying to contact. Multi-level trees are a real pain, though, and I lose patience quickly with these.

  14. Mark Ellenberger

    I work for a large Aerospace company, we had a real Southern Belle receptionist that also paged people to the number you wanted them to call. Her voice was looked forward too by everyone, it helped to brighten the day. When the bean counters ended her career it was literally the end of an era.
    Now starting my own Shop I haven’t given it a thought, but will now! Thank you for the story.


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