You call this a response?

We all suffer from - and are occasionally amused by - interactive voice response telephone systems. They use the English language in such a unique way.

We all suffer from - and are occasionally amused by - interactive voice response telephone systems. They use the English language in such a unique way.

Some marketing genius has told them all that putting the emphasis on normally insignificant words - as in "your call is important to us and we will answer some time before next Christmas" displays some kind of personal concern and sense of obligation.

Then there are the quaint intrusions of a name spoken in its owner's own voice among a sea of American voices, and of numbers assembled on the spot, sounding eerily as though they are being spoken digit-by-digit by several people in different corners of a large room.

We are not fooled. We know all we're doing is spending our time and money to ensure the party at the other end can be more efficient in using its customer service representatives or whatever is the latest term for them.

Most of us have learned to bear it in silence, knowing it benefits someone. But a message heard recently is the most breathtakingly useless we've come across yet. And it comes from Telecom.

Dialling into a staff member's direct line, we got: "You have been forwarded to a voice-mail system. However, the person at [digit sequence bearing no relation to the number we dialled] does not subscribe to this service. Call answering cannot be continued. Transferring to an operator. One moment please ."

The robot sounds almost apologetic for having to put you to the trouble of talking to a real person. But if the party you're trying to contact does not have a voice-mailbox, why not simply divert the call to the operator with no time-wasting verbiage? Such a message doesn't save anyone any time or achieve any positive business objective that we can see. Unless there is a subliminal voice under that tape urging us to subscribe to JetStart.

The human operator passed us through with alacrity. We suffered a long series of rings, followed by the discovery that our target did actually have a voice-mailbox.

"You can leave a message," said her recorded voice, "or you can press 0 to be diverted to my mobile phone."

Our reporter pressed 0. "Message left," the robot reported; and disconnected the line.

We despair.

Bell is a Computerworld journalist in Wellington. Send email to Stephen Bell.

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