I just got a telemarketing call from an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. I was sitting in my office and a call came in from a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered, there was a long pause, so I knew someone was telemarketing me. After a while, I usually say something smart-allecky like ‘hello? You called me?” and hang-up if the pause lasts too long.

In this case, a very steady, professional and rich voice clicked in and said “Hello, may I please speak with John?” Still in smart-alecky mode I said “You got him, what do you need?”  There was a long pause and the exact same voice said the exact same thing: “Hello, may I please speak with John.” I told the system in a smart-alecky way that they’d gotten me, but the system clearly couldn’t handle my smart-aleckiness, got confused and eventually hung up on me. 

I’m used to getting telemarketing calls where there’s a pause while they connect you to an agent once the system has determined that an actual human has answered the phone. I usually hang up before the agent can say anything. In this case, the number being called is listed in the US National Do Not Call Registry, so there never should have been a call anyway. Ugh.

What’s interesting about this though is that the newer systems apparently have this IVR in front, either to do triage like make sure the target is on the phone before connecting the call to an agent or to handle the call completely. Surprising though that the IVR wasn’t able to handle the call. What’s the point? I answered and said that they’d reached John – how horrible is the system if it can’t even handle that little bit of conversation.

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