Hard as it may be to believe boffins have claimed today that some time in the not too distant future whenever we telephone a call centre, the phone will not be answered by an automated robot, but in fact the voice on the other end of the line will be a real human being! It sounds like something straight out of some crazy sci-fi film and yet they insist that it may be coming sooner than we think.
Professor Barney Lingholm told BBC's Click programme, "Just imagine a scenario if you will. Your gas bill says that you have used £3,400,000 in one quarter, nearly double what you might expect, so you telephone your provider to query it. Well do that today and you'll get one of those irritating robots that says 'For-accounts-press-1. For-technical-support-press-2. and so on and so on.' You press the relevant number, the robot puts you on hold and then you listen to a tone-deaf stylophone player murdering The Four Seasons for the next thirty minutes, before being inexplicably cut-off just as you get connected to the call centre in Mumbai."
"However, once a company installs this new technology, which we're calling 'Receptionist', the number will either ring and be answered by a real person, or you'll get an engaged tone in which case you can go and make a cup of tea and try again later. When you do get through the receptionist will ask what department you require and then transfer you to another human being who will deal promptly with your query."
But big-business skeptics were quick to pour cold water on the idea. Global Products Inc's head of customer relations, Tristan O'Keefe commented, "That has to be the craziest idea I've ever heard in my life and it would never work in a million years. For decades folks have called premium-rate numbers and been put on hold for interminably long periods of time before being thwarted in their purpose at every turn. Any corporation introducing the scheme that's being suggested here would immediately make customers suspicious. They'd think guys like us were trying to dupe them."
Nevertheless, and despite emotions running high on the issue, it's understood that a trial is soon to be undertaken in a doctor's surgery in Bognor Regis, and if the idea proves to be a hit then we can expect to see receptionists popping up in a variety of different businesses and corporations over the coming months. With the one notable exception being the Jobcentre Plus helpline, protected by a government a charter which states that at all times it must provide its callers with the most "soul-destroying, unhelpful and will-to-live-sapping experience imaginable".
Meanwhile The Association of Tinny Muzak Producers is set to lobby the Ministers next week in an attempt to have the new technology banned.