The patronising computer

Ever been patronised by a computer? No? Then try calling Orange using the number printed on your phone bill to report that your telephone line is down.

According to my latest bill I had to dial 1013. So I did. A computer answered. “You really should have called 3900,” it said. “However, we are prepared to listen to your complaint even though you dialled the wrong number.” Apparently, the number changed at the beginning of July but the bill still has the old number. Par for the course, I guess.

The computer (at no point did I get to speak to a real person) assumed I was calling to report that the phone I was using to call them wasn’t working. A certain lack of logic there, methinks. But it gave me the option of punching in another phone number. Once we’d established which phone I was calling about, the computer ran a check. “There’s a fault on that line,” it said. Yes, I know, that’s why I’m calling you stupid electronic word unacceptable to SFN. A technician would look into it, the computer said.

Immediately afterwards I got three messages on my mobile telling me the problem would be fixed by 10.50 am on Tuesday (precise creatures these computers), giving me an internet link so I could follow what was happening and offering me free use of an Airbox 4G to keep me connected to the internet. I’m lucky if I can get 3G, let alone 4G, and only then if I walk up the road to a point where I can usually get a signal. So, nice thought, but useless.

Tuesday came and still no phone. So I followed the web link where I was told the problem should have been fixed and if it hadn’t been, to call my SAV. In other words, go back to talking to the computer. So I did. This time, no promises of when the issue would be resolved, no SMS, so I drove 37 km to the nearest Orange shop, knowing full well that it wasn’t something they could do a lot about. But at least I got to talk to a real person to whom I could explain that the phone was essential because I have an unfortunate habit of having heart problems which mean I have to call for medical help in the middle of the night. And I wasn’t about to get up and walk down the road until I got a mobile signal while trying to deal with Atrial Fibrillation.

And to their credit, they were brilliant. They called the technical services who gave them the number of the private company subcontracted to do the work and called them. They hadn’t been able to fix it on Tuesday but it would be fixed by Thursday, the company said. “Is that absolutely guaranteed,” I asked. “We’ll see on Thursday,” the nice man said.

Of course, it wasn’t fixed on Thursday, it was Friday, one week almost to the minute after the line went down.

What makes me angry about all this is not just that it was probably a technician fiddling round in the distribution/booster box down the road (we saw them the day the phone went dead) who caused the problem, not for the first time, but the fact that I had no way to get through to a real person to whom I could explain why this was urgent.

And the fact that I have had to pay for the calls to the patronising computer.