You’re calling your cable service provider, or an airline or maybe your cell phone has started acting a little wonky and you need it fixed. Like now. And you’re dreading making the call, because that means you have to listen to an insufferable robot woman, and you have no idea for how long. She seems pleasant, and assuring, but she’s actually a bitch. She needlessly taunts you, then plays you mood music that doesn’t calm you. In fact, it infuriates you. And she hasn’t done anything, nor is she even a real person, but for the time you’re on the phone, you wish she were dead. Here’s what being on hold is like:
1. Your journey begins with making the call. At this point you have all of your talking points ready, and you are absolutely certain that everything will be sorted out. You feel like you’re the king or queen of your domain.
2. Then a robotic voice apologizes to you. “I’m sorry, all of our operators are currently busy. Please stay on the line and the next available attendant will assist you.” You only just got on the phone, so you’re fine. You think, “well, that’s to be expected. This will all be over soon.” This is the first in a long line of opportunities where you’ll flat out lie to yourself.
3. Non-offensive adult contemporary plays while you wait. Your ear sweat is beginning to leave a slight residue on your phone. You’ve probably heard the song you’re listening to in real life, so you bop your head. (Oh I love Norah Jones.) Hey, if you’re going to be on hold, you might as well make the most of it. If you have a pet, this is when that pet cautiously inches toward you and starts rubbing themselves on you. “At least I’m not alone,” you think to yourself.
4. Because your life does not revolve around being on hold, life does go on. Part of life is going to the washroom. And you’ve already been holding it while you’re on hold and it’s time you took care of business. But this isn’t as easy as you think. You can’t just go, because you end up thinking, oh my god, what if they pick up while I am flushing the toilet? But don’t worry, they will not be picking up. You have time. But what if they pick up while I’m still on the toilet, and they hear the echo chamber that is my washroom? Again, this likely won’t be an issue.
5. The woman, who isn’t real and very much a robot, instructs you to please stay on the line. Then she utters something about you being important to the company and that feels like a challenge. “Oh really? I’m important to you, huh? Well, I am not going to hang up this phone until you answer and let’s just see how important I am to you, hm?” What you’ll continue to fail to remember is that this voice is pre-recorded and no matter how rude you are to it, there are no hurt feelings. Because she’s a digital punching bag.
6. But that never really computes. Her sing-song way of talking begins to infuriate you. And by now you’ve heard the song “Sunrise” about 9 times. “Why don’t they just play the f–king radio? Why do I have to listen to this f–king w–re singing about the goddamn sun over and over again?!” Nothing will be logical at this point. And you will begin swearing more than you might on a normal day. And even if you liked Norah Jones, she will become a “f–king w–re.” And you will have no justification for thinking that other than this robot person is really starting to get on your nerves.
7. You’re emotionally unstable. While you may have began this farce calm and collected, you’ve now matured to slightly annoyed or borderline homicidal. How quickly you advance from one mood to the next is really dependent on who you are. At this point you begin hoping, praying, that someone is listening in on the other end, and that all of your cursing and vaguely anti-feminist remarks are being heard. And noted. So you begin talking to the robot lady even more. Like, you’re brutally honest with her, as if you just walked in on her cheating with your husband. And now your cat or dog wants nothing to do with you. “Once again, I am alone.”
8. Next, you think you hear a click. “OH GOD YOU DID NOT JUST HANG UP ON ME. HELLO? HI? I’M HERE!” Then the music continues and all you can say is “f–k this, I’m hanging up.” You do not hang up. Because you think to yourself, “they’re just going to pick up in a minute and I’ve already been on hold for 30 minutes. I can wait.” 15 minutes later, you are still listening to coffee shop jazz. You cry a little.
9. “Your call is important to us…” At this point, it just feels like she’s taunting you. And you start to think of any foreseeable reason why she might be doing that to you. “What have I done to deserve this? I’m a good person. I pay for my music. I don’t just bring potato salad to potlucks. I don’t get it.” You’re back in the washroom now, not because you need to go again, but because you basically just need to move. Anywhere will do. Any position will do.
10. You contemplate putting your phone on speaker, but you’re too worried that that might hang up the phone and then you’d have to start all over again. So you hold it, your arm slightly aching and your ear full-on sweating. But you’re not even warm, you’re cold. “Am I getting sick? Has this woman made me sick? I need a blanket.” You migrate to the couch, where you will inevitably sit forever. You turn the TV on, but you mute it. You are convinced that the customer service agent, when they finally answer (if they answer), will not be able to hear you over the sound of the TV. So you watch Christian television on mute, and wonder if religious teens ever have to be on hold. While sitting, you go from annoyed at a robot (“I AM GOING TO KILL YOU AND YOUR FAMILY!”) to hopeful (“I think she really means it this time. I’m next”) to proud (“I will stay up all night if I have to”).
11. Your other line is ringing and you basically freak out. The urgent beeping, indicating that someone actually wants to talk to you, pulses in your ear. And then you look at your phone, panicked, wondering if you should or shouldn’t pick it up. Will it hang up the other call? And what if what they’re calling about isn’t as important as standing your ground? If it is important, they’ll call back. They’ll call back nine times (preferably) to indicate that it is a call worth picking up. You don’t pick up the other line, and you wait. “They can’t just leave without answering my call, right?”
12. Someone picks up. You begin by saying, “omg thank you, I have been waiting on hold for 4 hours (more like 1.5, maybe 2, but still long) and I didn’t think I would ever get through.” They apologize, and say something about having a lot of calls. You try to convince them that while you’re considerate of what they have to deal with, it is ridiculous to be on hold for that long. “Maybe you should have called back some other time,” the customer service agent said. “Is this conversation recorded for training purposes?” you ask threateningly. “How can I help you?” the agent asks.
13. You tell them your issue. They tell you that they need to put you on hold. “Is that okay?” they’ll ask. And really, what can you say? No, it’s not okay, but what is saying that even going to accomplish. Turns out they need to put you on hold because the department you’ve called is not the right one. They’re going to be transferring you. But not before you get in one last thing.
14. You threaten to cut off your service. They offer you a small credit and you take it but assure them that your time is worth much more but that you’re thankful for the gesture. You’re put on hold again. The cycle continues.
15. You vow never to call in again. “In person is better,” you think. Yeah, right. You’ll call again. And that same woman will answer. Just remember, you’re important.
Want to know what customer service agents would sound like if they were being truly honest? Watch this video to find out: