When Robots Put You On Hold

All I wanted to do was pay my credit card bill. I did not expect a morning spent in descending rings of outrage and then metaphysical horror that robots control humanity.

This has long been difficult for me. Not the robots, the paying my credit card. Specifically, the difficulty began six months ago when I received my new US Bank credit card in the mail. Attempting to activate it, I found out they assigned me a 4 digit PIN which could only be mailed to me (“expect in 5-7 business days”) because, I don’t know, it’s 2015 and isn’t snail mail the way we all communicate, just like the Victorians did? The Victorians knew their shit. Let’s stick to that system.

So fast forward through getting my PIN via a thin, bleached tree pulp container with hand written scrawl in black ink, and a saliva stained square worth forty nine cents, and we get to the point where I need to pay my bill for the first time. Again, I figure (stupidly) that US Bank is aware that it is the 21st century. I can’t find any way of logging into their website service to check my balance. They have some ludicrous system where you look at a picture that should help you remember your password somehow. A picture they choose. 

My last resort is the pay-by-phone option—after snail mail and telling a servant to do it, the Victorians’ third favorite means of communication. The phone option miraculously works, and I use it for the next few months, until it fails; this morning.

“Please say or enter your card number,” says the disturbingly calm, female, robot answering my call.

I use the dial pad for everything, because voice recognition never works! Annoyingly, the total outstanding balance on the card is sixty one dollars and two cents, however, the disturbingly calm female robot only gives me the option of paying the last stament balance: which is forty six dollars. I’m on to you US Bank! I know you’re hoping I only pay the last statement balance until I rack up debt charges!

So now I have to listen to all of this information over again, and write down the sixty dollar amount because I know I will forget it otherwise. Also I have to listen to it a third time, because the second time I had to find pen. It’s 2015! Is it nuts that I’ve been paperless since 2007?

All of this work completed, my preparations set, my strategy outlined like General Patton, I use the almost secret option of “paying a custom amount.” The amount I enter is of course sixty one dollars and two cents, the wild and crazy “custom amount” that is exactly what I owe so I can’t be overcharged in the future. I assume I can relax. I have beaten US Bank’s Victorian steampunk inspired billing system.

The disturbingly calm female robot voice repeats everything I’ve done, including telling me my own social security number like that’s all I am to it—I expect her to say my name in binary next.

“Please say ‘yes’ if this is correct.”

As before, I refuse to say anything and hit the number 1.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Please say ‘yes’ if this is correct.”

I say “YES,” loudly, and clearly into my phone.

“I still couldn’t understand you. If this information is correct, says ‘yes’.”

“YES!” I yell into my phone, wanting to follow it with “For the love of fucking Christ!”

“Sorry, let me transfer you to a customer service representative.”


At this point, I’ve woken up my girlfriend, and possibly my neighbor. I swear and grumble continually as I wait for this rep on the line.

“All of our customer service representatives are busy with customers, please stay on the line, and our next representative will be with your shortly.”

I seethe privately; trying to remain quiet. I also have the feeling of momentous failure, having been so close to victory only to be robbed—like when Laura Basset accidently scored an own goal in the Women’s World Cup.

I’m surprised when someone picks up. I’ve only been on hold for thirty seconds, maybe a minute.

“Hi my name is Shawna, what can I help you with today.” Shawna has a bubbly, almost overenthusiastic voice for a service rep.

“Hi I just want to pay my bill.” I wonder if that makes sense, or if she needs more information from me.

“Hi my name is Shawna, what can I help you with today?”

I have a visceral reaction to “Shawna’s” exactly duplicated sentence; every intonation identical to the first time. I feel an instant rush of something like vertigo. The veil is removed from this elaborate hoax like the plot twist of a Twilight Zone episode.


“I want to pay my bill!” I say, barely able to mask my rising paranoia.

“I’m sorry I didn’t catch that. Is there something I can help you with today?”

I would curse and yell at this “Shawna” if I was still capable of speech, but I’m not. I’m too gripped by some terrible combination of horror and indignation. I was put on hold. I was put on hold by a robot, just to be connected with another robot whose only difference is that “she” has a fucking name now! I WAS PUT ON HOLD! What purpose does hold have if there are no service reps, just goddamn soulless, bodiless voice recognition programs? The only purpose is to lull the unaware into thinking this second robot with a name is a human being!

“I still didn’t catch that. You’re welcome to call back at any time.” Then the call disconnects.

I sip my coffee. I look at my credit card closely, assuming perhaps it too is monitoring me. After all, this one has a chip in it, plus the magnetic strip. I’m going to a US Bank branch next. And when I jump the counter and stab the rep and no blood issues forth, the world will know I am not crazy.

About C.P.

Collin is a professional writer and scholar. He holds an MA in Philosophy and a BA in English literature. His philosophical work has appeared in print published by Wiley/Blackwell and Open Court. More of his writings, philosophical, literary, comic, and just plain nonsensical are available online. He currently lives in Seattle where he is writing science fiction, dressing up for Cons, and wreaking havoc on his opponents (npcs and tabletop humans alike).
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