Skip navigation
Electronic Design

What's All This GetHuman Stuff, Anyhow?

We ordered a new refrigerator from Sears to replace our sick, dying 30-yearold icebox, and it was supposed to be delivered on December 7. The Sears salesman told us that we'd get a phone call about delivery on December 6. When Sears called, the operator said it would be delivered the next day between 10 a.m. and noon. But the next morning, another operator called to say the refrigerator hadn't (magically?) arrived from the manufacturer, so we should wait a day or two. So much for JIT...

Since our icebox didn't come on Thursday, my wife Nancy waited most of Friday to see if Sears would call her with news about delivery. Finally, deciding to be proactive, she called Sears.

The first person she talked to tried to give her a runaround: "Oh, that was delivered on Thursday..." Nancy explained that no, it obviously was not delivered on Thursday (stupid computers...). The Sears person said someone "would call back in 24 to 48 hours" to tell her when it could be delivered.

Nancy signed off, and then she gradually began to fume. She finally followed the advice of a friend, regarding an airline that gave her some stupid advice: "Call the airline back again, and maybe you can talk to a different person who can give you a more reasonable answer—or an answer that you like."

(She once had called an airline whose clerk had told her it was impossible to change a ticket because it was a paper ticket, not an E-ticket.)

This is contrary to the recent saying that insanity consists of asking the same question over and over and expecting a different answer each time you ask it.

Recently, I've been asking my computer to do a simple task, and it refused to do it. So I would reboot, but I got no improvement. I would reboot one more time to finally get a reasonable response. Sometimes... maybe... sometimes, two or three more reboots.

So Nancy got back on line with a person at Sears who consulted her computer and said, "Oh, yes, the refrigerator will be delivered on December 10." Nancy queried, "But that is a Sunday. Do you deliver on Sundays?" Oh, yes.

So it goes to show that when you're talking to a real person who is addressing a computer, you may be talking to the wrong person and getting the wrong answer. Sometimes, trying again is the right thing to do. (Meanwhile, we gotta give those delivery guys a nice tip for getting it delivered as fast as possible.)

Get Out Of The Phone Tree
There's a list of at least 475 major U.S. companies at the "gethuman 500 database" at You can get simple instructions on how to talk to a real person at these real companies without wasting dozens of minutes on a dumb "phone tree."

Sometimes the instructions are as simple as "press 0" or "press # at each prompt" or even "don't press anything, don't say anything." It varies from company to company.

I forecast that the "future" doesn't belong to computerized phone trees, except for the simplest information, or to "outsourced" help centers who try to "help us" from 6000 miles away. The "future" belongs to wise humans who can answer a phone, help us solve problems, and save us time.

It belongs to humans who can ask us the right questions so we can resolve the real problem quickly with a good answer, like "the refrigerator will be delivered between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday." Would you believe that? (And yes, it was.)

When people call or e-mail me, I do try to be very helpful or at least transfer them to someone who can be helpful. I rest my case.

Comments invited! [email protected]—or: Mail Stop D2597A, National Semiconductor P.O. Box 58090, Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.