Everybody these days seems to have a voice mail system. Still, I try to avoid having any of my customers, colleagues or friends use my voice mail system because I feel uncomfortable that they are asked to deal with automation when they either want or need to talk to me.
During the day I like the people with whom I interact to be treated to a real person who takes their message if I am unavailable. That's simply the right thing to do. It's called manners, which seem to have practically disappeared these days.
After hours, of course, voice mail may be unavoidable, and it at least gives a person some indication that somebody cares about their needs. But when answering devices are a substitute for a live person frustration ensues, as one experience I had illustrates.
About two years ago, I flew from Phoenix to Chicago in a storm. As luck would have it, lightning struck the plane I was on. So, along with a number of other flights, the plane was detoured to St. Louis, where about 600 people were dropped off at around midnight.
It was not a pretty sight. The airport was not prepared to handle the situation, and there was a lot of confusion among the distraught passengers. After gathering my senses, I made the decision to see if I could get to Chicago the first thing in the morning.
So I called two of the major airlines and was greeted both times with automatic recordings. You know the kind. They say, "All of our sales people are busy handling other travelers' needs so if you would like to hold the next available agent will be with you shortly." I waited and waited and nobody came on the line.
About 2 a.m. I thought of Southwest Airlines. I pushed the buttons and was almost immediately greeted by a cheerful voice. I couldn't believe what I was hearing--a real live person treating me with dignity and respect.
It was extraordinary, and I got a reservation on the first Southwest flight out of St. Louis leaving at 6 a.m. The person I spoke to was pleasant, polite and service-oriented. I'll always remember her greeting when I said, "Is this a real live person I'm talking to?" Her response was, "Yes it is, we cover our phones personally for our customers 24 hours a day."
My flight the next morning left for Chicago right on time, by the way.
What have we done to ourselves in the name of efficiency and saving a few bucks? We've forgotten why we are in business--to give quality service to those who come to us. That's supposed to be the American way, but frankly we've lost our bearings.
Most healthcare facilities now use automated answering devices to deal with patients. Yet healthcare is the most intimate, personal experience any of us deal with in our lifetime. In the name of efficiency and economy, we deny our customers the personal attention they deserve.
For those who say that answering devices save money, I suggest treating people well is the only way to treat the very people who make the healthcare system go around.
It makes me wonder how any of us expect to deal with something so complicated as the Internet when we have done such a silly and stupid job of employing phones in our practices.
It's the only way to go, Charles S. Lauer Publisher