Public Service vs. Private Enterprise

Some years ago, I ran the  Complaint Department for the City & County of Honolulu. Just before dinner on the evening of my very first day on my new job, a woman came home from work to find a dead dog in her front yard. My name and photo had appeared in the newspaper that same day, so she was able to get my phone number through Information. And she called.

She called to demand that I have the dead dog removed from her property immediately and then she called every few minutes to complain that no one had arrived to perform the task. Finally she called to say the dead dog was gone, but wanted me to know that she was going to complain directly to the mayor himself because I had taken so long to resolve her problem.

That incident took place some 50 years ago.

Just last month, I needed to talk to “Corporate Communications” at a major Hawaii company.  I’ve known the head of that department for years, going back to when we were both in the advertising business in Honolulu. 

To get his phone number, I went on line to his company’s web site, typed in “Corporate Officers”, and hit the return key. 

Sure enough, up popped a page with photos, job titles and job descriptions for the company’s owners and the management team. Two thirds of the way down the page was my friend—a photo (at least 20 years old) above his name, his job title, and a brief one paragraph job description.   But no phone number.

In fact, there were no phone numbers for any of the individuals being presented as the company’s owners or “Management Team” . . . not a single phone number on the entire page.

I clicked back to the company’s home page and there, at the very bottom, was one phone number.

I made the call and, after several rings, a female voice answered. It was a recording. In a business-like monotone, she began to run down a list of the various departments. Finally the voice said “For Corporate Communications, press one-eight.”

I did as instructed.

There was a pause, followed by two ring tones, and then another recorded female voice speaking rapidly and in a monotone: “You have reached Corporate Communications. Leave your name and number. Someone will return your call.” 

That was almost three weeks ago and I’m still waiting for a return call from Corporate Communications.

I’m sure there’s an explanation for this automated, impersonal treatment. But it is a fact that each of those executives has an assistant and I assume their job description must include answering the phone when their boss is out of the office.

I found another way to get the information I needed, but a lingering doubt remained. Was there a technical malfunction and my recorded request for a call-back was never received? Or did a human being make the conscious decision that he or she just didn’t want to deal with whatever the hell it was that I wanted?

Either way, I understand that this kind of “automated” communication has become the norm. And I understand why. 

But I hate it!