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Emails to my Therapist

“Your Call Is Important to Us.” Business That’s Not Human Scale

Dear Nicholas, It’s not just me. Lots of folks have this petty but demoralizing complaint: marathon multi-hour sessions on the  phone or online trying to do business with outfits that are not human scale.

The Unscalable Electronic Wall

My heart sinks whenever I realize I need to make some change in our phones, wifi, electricity, TV or, God forbid, try to buy or re-arrange a plane ticket.

Of course this is a lucky-person kind of problem. You and I are indeed fortunate to have a phone, electricity, etc. I know that. Better tilting with utility companies than cleaning up after sooty kerosene lamps.

The Music That Plays Again and Again

Still, I think there’s a general problem when so much of the population would rather have a minor traffic accident or a wisdom tooth removed than try to reach their “provider” of some piece of the household infrastructure.

I’ve spent as much as five hours trying to get one problem solved. And a guy I know who is good at this sort of thing recently topped out at four hours. His wife walked into the living room to hear this usually mild-mannered man shouting, “Don’t hang up! DON’T hang up!”

The Repeating Reassurances

So what is the problem? I’m guessing it’s too many consumers and not enough staff to deal with us all. And chatting robots that can only answer questions no one is ever going to ask.  And automated systems that too often send us in circles or in the wrong direction. And passwords that mysteriously no longer work. And don’t get me started on finding solutions on websites.

I’ve read that swearing at the robot can get you to a human agent faster. But my experience is: it can get you hung up on.

We’re probably still in the Model-T stage of all of these systems and gadgets. But it’s beginning to feel as if we’ve been in this stage for a long time. While I would not want the job of creating, with the available resources, systems that quickly and efficiently work, it is my hope that some clever teenager will take this on.

The Beleaguered Staggering Systems

Until then, if I need to get some little electronic matter straightened out, I pack a lunch and gather reading material and settle in for a wait. Maybe I’m just really bad at this, but again: I am far from the only one.

It’s a minor matter in the big picture, but it would be good for the national mood as well as my own to be done with services that are not human scale. It’s a mere inconvenience, a bit like having a chair at the breakfast table that requires a stepladder to get into. We need human-sized everything.

Ever so patiently yours,




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  • kenju
    June 20, 2022 at 7:17 pm Reply

    I fell your pain. The older I get, the more I hate talking on the phone – to anyone – but especially to a company r a medical office. I fielded questions this morning from a hospital nurse, regarding an eye surgery upcoming for my husband. By the time we finished (32 minutes) I felt as though she had pulled all of my teeth and I was still bleeding. Not really, of course, but it felt that way.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 20, 2022 at 7:19 pm Reply

      I used to talk on the phone a lot, kenju, recreationally. Now, even talking with friends, I max out at about 20 minutes. Can’t figure out why the change.

  • kenju
    June 20, 2022 at 7:17 pm Reply

    Message…sorry “I feel”

    • Peggy Payne
      June 20, 2022 at 7:22 pm Reply

      Got it!

  • June 20, 2022 at 7:18 pm Reply

    I guess I’m more routine about these things – it’s a pleasure when I connect emotionallyu with the person at the other end, and otherwise it’s just takibn’ carea’ business.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 20, 2022 at 7:21 pm Reply

      And yet I’ve heard you aghast at spending 30 minutes on one of these electronic errands.

  • Amey Miller
    June 20, 2022 at 7:50 pm Reply

    I have a different take on this: to me it’s serious, toxic , capitalism, and has real effects on quality of life. Often the things one is is trying to fix are not well set up or in good shape, there is planned obsolescence. . .yada yada. . . I do believe with you Peggy, that somehow riding with the reality of it all, and not letting oneself be flattened by it is a good strategy. But I’m not for minimizing the ugliness of it all.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 20, 2022 at 10:50 pm Reply

      Good to “see” you, Amey! I do agree that this is a significant culture-wide problem. I downplay it some to try to put it into the context of a global view that includes war in Ukraine, years in refugee camps, and such. Also, I’m trying not to sound petulant about my personal inconvenience. Nobody likes a petulant blogger.

  • Thomas
    June 20, 2022 at 8:55 pm Reply

    Put this last exchange in a novel. It so encapsulates a relationship that has endured the vagaries of modern culture…

    • Peggy Payne
      June 20, 2022 at 10:42 pm Reply

      I think you’re referring, Thomas, to my exchange with Bob, who was Replying from his computer just upstairs from me. His experience is different from mine because I handle our electronic, media, phone, travel arrangements, etc. Calling L.L. Bean is a more pleasant matter.

  • Marie
    June 20, 2022 at 8:59 pm Reply

    Great message, Peggy. Unfortuantely this is not only a result of the pandemic where there are fewer employees. This “your call is important to us…” has been around for way too long with absolutely no real caring that I am important to them. It’s just words.. and as we know , today, words don’t mean much.
    So like you, whenever I know i’ll be on the phone with a “caring” robot I gather food- and sometimes drink – and settle in for the long haul knowing that it could be at least five or more robots till I can actually, and maybe not even, speak to a real person.
    Thanks Peggy.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 20, 2022 at 10:31 pm Reply

      Drink would definitely help, Marie. I once decorated a full-sized Christmas tree while I was waiting on the phone.

  • Robert Braxton
    June 20, 2022 at 9:24 pm Reply

    Spouse has remaining investment accounts (mostly retirement Roth and Rollover distinct) with an outfit with the lowest fees. Occasionally I feed her “magic numbers” (especially when investments in free-fall – buy more!). Once she has unlocked “my voice is my password” and the robot voice estimates 3 weeks and 23 hours wait time, it offers “would you like a call back?” which (when I nod my head) she gladly accepts. She can still, if she wishes, gather her packed lunch and reading materials. She usually has a large herd of self-inflicted tasks anyway, so she can enjoy those as well – this in our 11th year (retirement)

    • Peggy Payne
      June 20, 2022 at 10:34 pm Reply

      I’m going to hang onto that useful term “self-inflicted tasks,” Bob. I think I may have put myself through quite a few of those. Three weeks and 23 hours wait time is probably the world’s record. At least I hope so.

  • June 20, 2022 at 11:47 pm Reply

    PS: Striding around my house fulminating about toxic capitalism while I am not in a refugee camp —– yes Peggy that is a very good point —- I also want to put in the destruction of bricks & mortar —– places where people curate and receive goods and are interested in contact with an actual person. I know you have some personal/family connection with such. This also relates to people who fix things! This kind of community building is not trivial! And I believe the forces going after bricks & mortar (yes I am talking to you Jeff Bezos), are not unrelated to the melt-down in our democratic fabric. . . Just sayin. . .

    • Peggy Payne
      June 21, 2022 at 12:19 am Reply

      Yes, Amey! the communing of shoppers and clerks is important. I say that not just because I’m a merchants’ kid. I’ve read good research saying that the number of people you have at least some glancing contact with in a day is as good a predictor of longevity as anything. Sometimes I find myself even counting the number of people I’ve said hi to.

  • David K
    June 21, 2022 at 10:42 am Reply

    I’ve found that one way to get attention with professional offices – doctors, lawyers, dentists, hospitals and so forth – is to take the option to talk to someone in billing. Remember, everyone wants to collect from their customers. And then, I tell them about my struggle to et through the wall in the most humorous way I can. Often – almost all the time – they find a way to get me more directly to the person I need to speak with – maybe direct connection or an extension. Doesn’t work everywhere all the time but it amuses me and sometimes I make someone else laugh and win, too.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 21, 2022 at 1:24 pm Reply

      Excellent strategy, David K! It might well work with the big utilities as well. I’m going to give it a try.Thank you!

  • June 21, 2022 at 11:43 pm Reply

    Love the new strategy/idea re billing, David K.. And Peggy, I love the “glancing contact” data. Timothy Snyder, student of totalitarianism, and ways to avoid it takes up for small talk! Anything for the community fabric, baby!

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2022 at 12:41 am Reply

      I’m glad to hear that such a serious and multi-multi-lingual guy as Timothy Snyder favors small talk. I engage in it often. I hope Snyder will also endorse celebrity gossip magazines and chocolate chip cookie dough frozen yogurt. And I’m enjoying this conversation.

  • June 22, 2022 at 2:17 pm Reply

    I do hope TS would endorse such potentially goodly practices as gossip (magazines & etc.) and cookie dough yogurt. . I wouldn’t count him out! You have to have grist for the small talk! I also wanted to add, just reading a good article by Ethan Zuckerman ( on alternatives to the internet we have now. Zuckerman talked about “imagining alternatives” —– I think that circles around to imagining how we might not have “customer service” as it is now configured. . . just sayin. . . .So appreciate this thread.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2022 at 7:57 pm Reply

      Here’s a comment I received on my other FB page (my business page) from someone who has worked in customer service, Amey:

      “I started in customer service and slowly it became “a service you need…” I’m sorry but I was really bad at forcing new services onto something not working to begin with! True customer service has died a slow agonizing death ( but there are always exceptions!)”

      Wil have a look at the imagining alternatives pieces. Thanks! Can’t imagine what he’s imagining.

  • Lee Grohse
    June 22, 2022 at 6:36 pm Reply

    I sure feel this one today! Got home last night from a wonderful vacation. My suitcase did not. All day I’ve been shouting at United Airlines recordings. Why does the phone number they gave me to call regarding baggage issues have no option on the menu about baggage? I so want a real person to shout at.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 22, 2022 at 7:59 pm Reply

      A perfect illustration of the problem, Lee, and so typical. I enjoyed your travel pictures on FB–glad you took that swim. May your suitcase make it safely home!

  • Lou Lipsitz
    June 26, 2022 at 7:04 pm Reply

    Depends almost entirely on MY mood. If I’m pressed for time, feeling someone has been stealing my money or food or health, I’m quickly rabid. If I’m not in a rush, have had something good to eat, can look out on a summer scene from my second floor den, I’m Mr. Good Humor, the smiley guy. I can have a good chat even with a robot (which means with myself!!) I’ve even had a few real conversations with harassed women in the Phillipines. BUT there is a limit, yes, and there is a time to hang up and curse, to yell, to throw stuff. To promise yourself you will NEVER try this number again unless they are about to invade your house and take your most precious whatever away.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 26, 2022 at 7:26 pm Reply

      Your good-humored patience is impressive, Lou. Bob has real conversations sometimes, too. I’ve hardly ever managed it. I can wait endlessly, if necessary, but I barely manage civility by the time I reach someone.

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