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The parlous state of native-speaker communications

December 08, 2006

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place (Shaw)

Hello again,
Not wishing to risk a libel action I can’t warn you about the company whose telephone-answering service has recently led me to almost weep at the depths to which communication in English has descended. But let me paint the picture.

I needed to obtain a replacement USB cable for an MP3 player. As the product.

...was only two months old, I decided the manufacturer should be able to help me. Reassured by the UK telephone number, I thought I would be able to speak to somebody who would understand me and who would equally be intelligible. What misplaced optimism.

Before I could decide from the four options available I had to listen to a full minute and a half of gibberish about privacy and confidentiality issues all of which conform to US and EU laws, then be warned that my call might be recorded but that this in no way interfered with my legal rights, bla bla and so on in the same nonsensical vein until finally I was able to press a number on my key pad.

Hoping to be able to finally make my request I was pre-empted by a male voice announcing his name as Pat and asking to know my first name. Resisting the urge to tell him to mind his own business, I divulged my name and hoped I might make my request. But no, next it seems I had to ‘registrate’ my product. What, I said do you mean by ‘registrate’, as no such verb exists in the English language. 'I don’t know', was his reply 'but you must registrate before I can discuss your needs'. Perhaps, I suggested, I could talk to somebody who would listen to me and answer a simple question. But, no, without 'registrating' I had no chance of getting anywhere. 'What does registrating involve?' said I. Telling me your product model. 'Why couldn’t you have asked that to begin with?' I said. 'Because I have to make sure you registrate.'

Having finally registrated (I hope you have noted this neologism in your vocabulary notebooks) I proceeded to ask for a replacement cable. Current configuration, I was told, show that this cable is no longer in stock. 'But,' I demurred, undeterred by ‘configuration’, 'my MP3 player is only two months old'. 'If you are desirous,' replied Pat,' you can go on a waiting list'. I declined this offer but asked if he could give me the cable’s specifications so that I could buy one elsewhere. 'This is information I am not currently having,' he responded.

So there we are. I am not complaining so much at the respondent’s poor understanding of his native tongue as of his total in ability to communicate. Okay, no doubt he has been instructed to reply to calls in this way. But why? As a customer I just want someone to listen to my query and respond appropriately. I feel as if I live in a parallel universe to these call-centre operatives. I am now keeping a list of companies I deal with who employ real communicators and those that insist on manning the telephones with human clones of automata. I shall stop all future dealings with the latter. By the way if anyone wants an MP3 player without a USB cable, drop me a line.

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