Southerners impatient? No, we just know what we want

By John Peters -

I read an interesting survey the other day which claimed that people in the South are the least patient in the nation when it comes to waiting on hold during calls to businesses.

According to the study, conducted by the PH Media Group, 47 percent of people in the South will not remain on hold for at least a minute.

“Traditionally, waiting on hold is perceived as an annoyance for customers and it appears people in the South are particularly quick to hang up the phone when placed on hold,” said Mark Williamson, sales and marketing director for the group.

To that I say, well duh. When someone calls a business — whether it’s to ask a question, purchase something, complain about a previous purchase, or pay a bill, we’re calling to do business, not to sit on hold and listen to annoyingly calm elevator music. Yet companies far and wide seem to think it’s okay to have us go through a never-ending maze of automated messages that eventually put us on hold for a “customer service representative” where we sit and wait.

I blame the blind obsession with technology for this.

I’m not an anti-tech guy. Believe me, I’ve seen the pain-staking way newspapering was done before computers and electronic graphic arts programs and I have a deep, heart-felt appreciation for the relative ease with which editors and journalists can do their work now. I might have been one of the two last people in the Western hemisphere to have finally gotten a Smart phone, and while I still detest the propensity some people have of constantly checking messages, Facebook, and playing games instead of conversing with those sitting across the table from them, I admit there have been times it’s been mighty convenient to have it with me.

But I think somewhere along the line folks who produce these automated audio torture devices — also known as automated answering services — sold us all a bill of goods. They claim these things increase efficiency, that callers can go through the morass of endless automated choices, conduct their business and never have to talk to a real, live person. That way, these businesses can cut the jobs of people doing the phone answering, or at least give them other work to do, since with these new efficiencies they’ll have loads of time on their hands.

Of course all of that extra time is now taken up when those folks attempt to do business with other firms by phone, getting automated services that either take the caller ten minutes to do what they could have accomplished in five had a live person answered their phone, or they get automated services that simply don’t work. See, it’s a viscous cycle — everyone gets these systems to “help with efficiency” and then lose all that efficiency, and then some, when they waste their time dealing with other business’ automated services.

I think what this survey found is that people in the South aren’t more impatient, they just don’t believe in wasting time with such foolishness. If you want my business, answer the phone. If not, hey, I can go somewhere else.

It’s a little like shopping online. Yes, I do order from Amazon and other online retailers, more and more every year, it seems. But when I really want something nice, or something done right, I still tend to drive — or in the case of shopping in downtown Mount Airy, walk — to stores, go in, and check out the items I’m thinking about. I want to see it, pick it up, and most of all I appreciate the interaction with a live person.

Around Mount Airy I’ve often had local workers and shop owners ask me questions, point out alternatives to what I thought I wanted to buy, even suggest other stores — their competitors — that might have something more in line with what I’m seeking.

That sort of interaction takes more time than simply logging onto a website and punching a couple of buttons to buy something, so I’d take issue with the survey that said Southerners are more impatient than the rest of the nation.

We’re plenty patient, when we get proper and personable customer service. And for my money, it’s still hard to beat that face-to-face interaction we can get with many of our local businesses. So whenever possible, I’ll skip the phone calls and sitting on hold, because I’m sure there’s someone local who would like my business.

John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 336-719-1931 or at

By John Peters

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