05 September 2007

Phone a Belgian

Automated telephone answering systems are one of the unloved but all-pervading features of modern life, so it's nice to get a press release from Tourism Flanders-Brussels who are promoting their enquiry line on the grounds that it is operated by humans.

Tourism Flanders- Brussels operate a “real” live operator line from Monday to Friday on a London local rate telephone number. Calls are actually answered by a member of staff unlike so many tourist offices nowadays! Its is rare not to have automated answering lines and we pride ourselves in the fact that we can answer public queries in person without the need to incur prohibitive telephone rate charges for our visitors.

The Tourism Flanders-Brussels live operator line is manned daily from 9am – 4pm, Monday to Friday. Should the public want further information, a free brochure ordering line is available too.

In a world where we all rely on machines, it’s nice to know that some tourist offices value the human touch!


Of course the irony is that if the Flemish-speaking half of Belgium suddenly started attracting significantly more visitors and enquiries (maybe triggered by a rush of enthusiasm for human operated enquiry lines!) one of the first things to go in order to cope more efficiently, would be the humans who answer the phones.

Still, t
here is a more serious and more sinister aspect to all this.

Machines answering phones are generally accepted as unpleasant but necessary, as long as they make the process of being routed through to a relevant person more efficient.

Phone transactions that are entirely machine operated (booking tickets, paying bills) are tolerated but dis-trusted and dis-liked.

The Halifax bank is the only organisation I am aware of that has crossed the line and turned to the 'dark side' by introducing a machine that phones you... and goes on relentlessly phoning you every two hours or so (during the day and early evening) until you have completed the transaction. Phone stalking by machine.

I know this because I refuse to talk to it on the grounds that once companies get the idea that we'll answer phone calls from their machines, the floodgates will open and we'll be deluged with their spam.

It is also
the ultimate insult to treat customers as non-human entities that can be engaged and handled at arms length by a machine.

As the Carlsberg adverts would have it - it's a pity Tourism Flanders isn't a bank because they'd certainly be better than the Halifax.

(and yes, I will be voting with my feet and taking my business elsewhere)



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