Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Real Life Catch-22

I recently received a phone call from Blue Cross for my son William. The call was fully automated—recordings and voice recognition. It asked if I was William. When I replied that I was not, it asked me to take a message for him. The message was that he was to call a specific phone number.

I passed the information on to William, who is a student at the University of Chicago. He called the number from his cell phone—and was informed, I assume again by a robot responder, that he had to respond from the phone number that the original call had gone to—my home number in San Jose.

He reported the result to me. I called the number. The robot asked me if I was William. I replied that I was not. It asked if I was representing him. I replied that I was. It told me to tell him to call the number and hung up on me.

I called the general Blue Cross number, eventually got through to a human being, and described the elegantly impossible situation that I had encountered. He put me on hold, checked the situation, then informed me that the call was for a survey and he could and would remove William from the list of people being surveyed. I pointed out that the same problem would occur for anyone else being surveyed who was not living at the location of his home phone number and suggested that Blue Cross might want to alter the way they did their survey. My guess, from his response, is that it won't happen.


jdgalt said...

Since I moved here three years ago, I've been getting repeated reminder calls from Anthem Blue Cross apparently intended for the parents of an infant girl whose family used to have my phone number. ("Remember to get her shots," "Checkups are important for young kids," yadda yadda.) The recordings, which can only be heard if you say you're one of her family, don't give a phone number to call back, and the phone number for A/BC in the phone book leads to a sales rep who has no clue how I can make the calls stop.

It would be nice if we had a free market in phone services so that I could subscribe to one that didn't allow this sort of thing. That isn't possible, but getting rid of one's telephone and using the Internet as a replacement is.

I expect that in twenty years, traditional telephone service will no longer exist.

Daublin said...

It's a good example of what happens when computers are put in charge of something. If the programming is wrong, there is very little flexibility to make things happen.

Broadening the idea a little bit, this kind of thing also happens when a bureaucrat is very particular about the rules of their office. A very faithful, nitpicky bureaucrat has a lot of similarity to a computer program.

Jonathan said...

I would be tempted to ban all telephones from my house, but for the fact that my wife uses them quite heavily.

Nightrunner said...

This is a little confusing - why bother calling Blue Cross when an invisible hand of the market is already at work removing inefficient surveys?

Jon Kalb said...

I called United to have them email me my boarding pass. I navigated the robot until it asked if I wanted my boarding pass emailed or faxed to me. I said yes and it asked for my fax number. I said "email" along with a few other chose words. It was not to be dissuaded from it desire to extract a non-existent fax number from me. Who has a fax number anymore?

I discovered that if you hit the # key twice it understands that you want to speak to an operator. It even says, "I sense that you wish to speak with an operator." But then it says, "I can't do that right now." I tried this several times but it became clear that "not right now" didn't mean that operators were too busy, it meant that "at this point in the menu system I'm fixated on getting a fax number and your only means of escape is hanging up."

Your only hope is to hang up, call again, and press the # key twice before it asks if you want your boarding pass emailed or faxed to you.

Unknown said...

There will be lots of head scratching going on over there at Blue Cross trying to figure out why their response rates are so low.