Well, That Was Exciting

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:52 pm

So my server was down all day; yes, yes, I’m aware of it. I decided to take the piping-hot new motherboard I got as a temporary replacement for the one that went “foof” a few weeks ago and wrap a whole new Web server around it; one that could handle all the myriad tasks asked of it (Web server, Unreal Tournament server, security camera server) with a little more aplomb. The new server is breathtaking, to be sure (2 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 gigs of RAM, rowrrr); what I didn’t plan on was hosing my old server in the process. Yee-fucking-ikes. 😯

On the other hand, everything seems to be working now (knock Formica, kill a chicken over my keyboard, whatever it takes), and I think you might notice my Web site loading a bit more sprightly now. Dear Deus ex Machina, I hope so.

A Jillion-Dollar Idea

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:24 am

Every once in a while I come up with one of these, and since I’m a total boneless lazy-ass futon tuber and never get around to actually implementing them, I figure I ought to just talk about it here and perhaps someone else can help to bring it to fruition. Perhaps you, whomever you are, would be so kind as to give me a cut of a quarter-jil or so for having come up with it? Thanks in advance.

This post came up as the result of a discussion with my chiropractor, but really I’ve been bandying the concept about for some time.

My back-cracker was lamenting his recent experiences with the Medicare system. He had to apply for a series of health care provider numbers based on various aspects of his practice, and he was having a terrible time getting someone from Medicare to accept the forms he had submitted with all of these provider numbers attached. Every time he spoke to a new person on the phone he was told that Medicare would not accept his application until he submitted his application with the numbers arranged in the “right” order, and every representative he talked to told him to arrange them a slightly different way. I don’t have the requisite mathematics background to calculate the total number of possible permutations, but take a group of six different account numbers, multiply them by the total number of possible arrangements of those numbers, and even before you throw in the number of different possible phone operators at the Medicare office and their (presumably) randomly-distributed opinions as to the “proper” order of the six numbers—assuming that none of them are lying and just telling my chiropractor that he got it wrong out of pure orneriness—and you begin to see just what sort of potential pickle he was in.

I commiserated with him, relaying the more modestly harrowing tale of our recent efforts to move Margaret’s 401k from her previous employer’s system over to our own personal investor guy (yes, we have our own investor guy; we’re old). One person at the financial entity that holds the fund told Margaret that we needed a notarized Spousal Consent Form; the next one she talked to said that all we needed was to call in with a verbal confirmation from said spouse (me). We’re still working it out, but I have no doubt whatsoever that, should we find it necessary to call again, that representative will tell us that we must first obtain the Emerald Third Eye from the Statue of Graag in the Blood Caverns of Bal’ Adur. And have it notarized.

The point being, every time you talk to someone at a large company or organization, you seem to get a different story. There is no good way to strive for—or demand—consistency. Hence my invention: The Phone Rep-O-Tron ConsistoMatic 9000™.

You know how, no matter what commercial or governmental entity you call these days, you are informed that “your call may be monitored and recorded for quality assurance”? Why on earth should this handy-dandy tool be reserved solely for those least likely to offer—much less assure—any quality, namely the underpaid wretches on the other end of a caller-ID-blocked phone line in the guts of a vast call center somewhere in Indiana (or India)? Why should we, the folks whose quality of experience is most threatened by the circumstances of the exchange, not use this valuable technology in furtherance of our own ends?

At its heart, the ConsistoMatic 9000™ is a simple recording device, with two RJ11 phone jacks. One plugs into the wall outlet, the other plugs into your main telephone. The device records digitally, using a modest 32- or 64 kbps MP3 encoding scheme, and contains enough storage space for perhaps thirty hours of continuous conversation—say, the projected maximum time one might spend on the phone dealing with a contested insurance claim, or something like that. The unit would also feature a USB 2 port so you could offload stored conversations onto an external USB hard drive, CD burner or keychain drive. The Deluxe model might even sport an Ethernet port so it can be accessed via a Web interface. Each audio file would be stamped, both by file name and in a meta tag, with the date, time and duration of the call, along with the Caller ID information for the incoming call or the number(s) dialed by the owner to initiate the outgoing connection.

When placing or receiving a call, the ConsistoMatic 9000â„¢ would automatically start listening in and recording the call. If the user does not press a specific key sequence on the phone’s keypad, the conversation will be dumped as soon as the connection is broken. If the user presses the key sequence during the conversation, the unit will break in with an announcement: “This call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance.” At that point the unit will be reset to start recording from the point at which the key sequence was pressed, retaining only the meta information about date, time, phone number, etc. That way, no one can ever claim that they were not informed during the recorded portion of the exchange that their call was being recorded.

The unit would also feature a small backlit LCD screen, along with a scroll wheel and transport controls for playback, pause, rewind, the usual. An iPod-like playlist interface would also be nice, so when (for instance) phone rep B tells you that there’s no way your Priority 1 order could possibly go out by end of business today, you can scroll back to earlier that morning when you placed the order with phone rep A, who swore that the order would ship no later than noon that day, and play it right back into the phone for him. “If it would clear things up”, you can add helpfully, “I can email an MP3 of the entire conversation to your manager. What’s their email address?”

Imagine the potential such a tool, properly implemented, might offer for improving one’s customer service experience!

There is simply no reason why straightforward technologies used by massive companies and institutions for their benefit cannot also be used against them for ours. Look at the TeleZapper: one of the best quality-of-life appliances of the last twenty years, based around the same tools used by the telemarketing industry to ruin our lives….or at least our dinners. The Phone Rep-O-Tron ConsistoMatic 9000â„¢ could be one of these as well. Won’t you help make this dream a reality? And then pay me handsomely for thinking it up? :mrgreen:

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