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I want to speak to an agent

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 11:30 AM EST, Wed December 28, 2011
LZ Granderson doesn't want to turn the clock back to 1899, when these telephone operators ran the New York central telephone exchange, but he would like to speak to an actual human being.
LZ Granderson doesn't want to turn the clock back to 1899, when these telephone operators ran the New York central telephone exchange, but he would like to speak to an actual human being.
  • LZ Granderson: Technology is great, but it's making it harder than ever to get to a real person
  • Automated phone systems don't have to be paid or given time off and benefits, he says
  • He asks: Why do we have to punch in our account number, then be asked for it by an agent?
  • LZ: Some companies now promote fact that you can call and reach an actual person

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs

(CNN) -- Speak to an agent.

After "can you hear me now?" is there a more frustrating phrase we have to yell into our cells over and over again than that?

It's so bad that I find myself adding words like "please" and sometimes "dammit" even though I know it's only going to confuse the automated service more but I can't help it because the process is slowly driving me insane.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

It's either that or I start pushing the pound key as soon as I hear a robotic voice on the other end, which of course doesn't work either because companies have figured out that we have figured out the shortcut. Consequently the companies have either eliminated the pound key option or force you to listen to the entire message because it's only at the end do you hear "or push 4 to speak to an agent."


Why is four the new pound key and what in the hell happened to zero?

And why do we need to punch in our account number before we speak to an agent if the agent is only going to ask for our account number when he or she finally gets on the phone anyway? It just seems like busy work and obviously we're busy enough. That's why we forgot to send a check to the cable company and now we have to call to pay the bill in first place.

OK, maybe that last part is just me.

But what isn't "just me" is the irritation that comes from knowing these cable providers, banks, doctor offices and such have all taken what has traditionally been a fairly painless process and injected all of this stress into it because automated service seems easier on the bottom line than customer service.

I get it.

Siri and her girls may not get the caller's request right the first dozen times, but they don't require overtime, health insurance or raises.

I guess it wasn't enough that outsourcing funneled our calls out of the country and into offices in countries where the people on the other end of the phone only knew the English on the script in front of them. Now, not only do the people answering the phone not know English, they're not even people.

They're software.

Correction: It's software.

In fact you can buy groceries, pay for tolls, get tickets to movies and such and go for days dealing only with "it" and never "they" or "them" or "him" or "her."

It would appear our growing usage and dependence on technology has not only made us lazier but so much more impersonal. My 15-year-old son actually tried to text me while in the next room of our house one night. I stormed right over and said, "Young man you will tell me I am ruining your life to my face" ... or something like that.

The world has gotten so crazy that some companies are now promoting the fact that you can call their customer service department and an agent will answer the phone. What used to be a given is now considered an innovative promotion that I'm sure we're paying for with some hidden charge dubbed a "processing fee" or something like that.

I remember seeing a recent CNN news segment in which a pastor encourages people to tweet while in his church. Imagine: the message from an infinite God filed down to 140 characters or less, which I guess is just as good as long as you have enough bars on your phone. And you don't have to speak to an agent before the church service starts because you forgot to pay your bill (again, that last part may just be me).

Technology is great most of the time but not all of the time.

While living in an automated world can certainly expedite a lot in our lives, it can also cause us to fly by some of the smaller things we don't notice until they're gone. Like arcades, telephone booths or the ability to speak to a freaking agent. I swear I never noticed just how important that part of life was until I started yelling that sentence into my cell in public.

Now it seems whenever I dial a phone that's all I want to do: Speak to an agent, pay my bills, go back to not having to be bothered with ... people.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.