Six in the Morning: When it comes to customer service, too big is too detached

Fawn Musick

In my job as an office manager at an up-and-coming psychiatry office, I work constantly with insurance companies. This work is annoying, irritating, and absolutely non-productive.

Here is how most conversations – if you can call them conversations – go.

I look up the number and dial it. It is answered by a robot with horrible music playing in the background.

The first message is all about how the recent storms have produced a huge backlog and the wait time will be even longer than normal. Then, the message about options have changed, and I am given four options for the first round. I choose No. 3. We go through another round of options, and I choose No. 1.

A different robot comes online and asks questions. I repeat the information at least three or four times for each response. For instance, on the date of birth, the robot does not understand Oct. 1 as Oct. 1. I say it. I punch it in on my phone. I say it. And still, the voice can’t get it. I punch it in again because if I can not make the robot understand the date of birth, my call is over.

Finally, I kind of scream in a very articulate manner, “October 1st!” My co-worker says something about a snarky attitude at just about the time the robot asks another question. I punch in the answers and get another question. About 15 questions later, I get to go back on hold while I wait for a “real” operator. The bad music comes back on, and I continue the work at my desk until I hear a person asking for my name.

I give her answers about my name, my business, my phone number, the tax ID, the patient name, and the patient’s demographic information. She asks a few more questions and then informs me that the call will have to be transferred to another department. At this time, I have been on the phone for twenty-three minutes. She asks me even more questions that I find unnecessary, combined with the information they have already gathered. She has already said that she is going to transfer me to another department and I will have to start from the beginning. All this takes place while she chomps her gum in my ear!

I tell the girl that I find the questions redundant because the next department is going to ask the same questions again. The music comes on immediately with no response from her. After eight more minutes, I hang up and begin again.

On the second try, after I enter all of the demographic information, I get a message that they can only put me on hold for 2 minutes. What? Two minutes. I roll my eyes because it helps me to cope with the intolerable situation. Nine minutes later, I am still on hold waiting for option No. 2 to kick in.

On that try, I never get past the music. I hang up because I need to go to the bathroom, and I have other things to do. I will call later.

On the third try, I get the disclaimer message that tells me IF I ever get to talk to someone that anything they say is not a promise of payment and that basically, they can change their minds at any time. This time, I get past option No. 2, and the dreaded music begins. Seventeen minutes in, I hang up. Keep in mind that I am dialing in on the professional provider line.

In the end, they ask me to fill out a short survey about the satisfaction of my call and the information I received. I thought it more Christian-like to not answer the survey.

My thoughts are that if this is happening to me on a daily basis, then it is happening to others on a daily basis, and this is not fun. Insurance. Banking. Medicine. Education. What is the big deal with being so BIG that there is no longer customer service or satisfaction?

Personally, I like the smaller places who know who I am. I like the places who have a real person answering the phone and answering my questions. I like the places where I still matter. I like connections, and I like relationships. Why else are we here?

Perhaps the answer to our biggest questions should begin with the idea that too big can be too much. Maybe we need to dial it back to a size where a person actually answers the phones and takes care of the customer. Or the phones are answered by someone who speaks the language of the country where the service is being offered. While BIG might be the answer to a few questions, I have to say that when I go into the bank or the grocery store or want to shop around for insurance, I much prefer the smaller entities with whom I can build a relationship.

I can almost guarantee that the anxiety levels of many will go down as customer service increases and companies remember that relationships are important.

Fawn Musick is a Princeton Times columnist, a mom, and a blogger. To read more of her work, visit To contact her, write