A Thanksgiving Week Gift for You: “Automated Customer Service”

Merry Thanksgiving week! To show my appreciation for you, my readers, here’s a short story I wrote to read aloud while I was touring with The Consuming Fire. It’s called “Automated Customer Service,” and it’s what happens when, in the near future, something goes wrong with a household appliance and you have to navigate an automated call system to get help. For extra added fun I did an audio version as well, with my voice fiddled with just a bit to replicate the true automated customer service experience. Enjoy.

Automated Customer Service

by John Scalzi

Thank you for calling the customer service line of Vacuubot, purveyors of America’s finest automated vacuum cleaners! In order to more efficiently handle call volume, we rely on automated responses. To continue in English, press one. Para Espanol o prima dos.

Let’s continue in English. Which Vacuubot product are you calling about? For the Vacuubot S10 model, press one. For the Vacuubot XL model, press two. For the Vacuubot Extreme Clean model, press three.

Congratulations on owning the Vacuubot Extreme Clean Model, America’s most thorough and comprehensive automated vacuum cleaning solution! If you need to order additional components for the Extreme Clean, press one. If you have a repair query, press two. For all other questions, press three.

You have additional questions. If you need help connecting the Vacuubot Extreme Clean to your home network, press one. If the Vacuubot Extreme Clean is conflicting with other automated home machines, press two. If the Vacuubot Extreme Clean has decided to purge your house of all living things, press three.

Congratulations on activating purge mode! While purge mode was designed to eradicate small pests like insects and spiders, in some models a beta software build was inadvertently released that also includes larger targets, like pets and some humans. We’re sorry for the inconvenience. To continue, please press one. Be aware that by pressing one, you are absolving Vacuubot and its owner, BeiberHoldings, Inc, of all legal and medical responsibility.

You pressed “0” to speak to a human representative. The current wait time for a human representative is six hours and fourteen minutes. To return to the automated response system, press one.

Welcome back to the automated response system. First things first: Have you tried turning the Vacuubot Extreme Clean off and on again? Press one for yes, two for no.

You said no. Is that because the Vacuubot Extreme Clean is currently exhibiting the Taser Defense Mode, making it impossible to approach without having 50,000 volts of electricity course through your body? Press one for yes, two for no.

We apologize for the Taser Defense Mode. It was originally designed to zap small insects, but our subcontractor misread the manufacturer specifications. Fortunately, the Defense mode can be distracted by throwing something at the Vacuubot Extreme Clean, like a heavy blanket or a pet. If you have a heavy blanket, press one. If you have a pet, press two.

The automated system has detected that you are using high levels of profanity right now. While the automated system is in fact automated and doesn’t care what you yell at it, your bad attitude is being noted for if and when you are put in contact with a human representative. When you have calmed your sassy boots down a bit, press one.

That’s better. Now, let’s talk about pets. If you have a cat, press one. If you have a dog, press two.

You have a cat! Excellent. Now, all you have to do is toss the cat at the Vacuubot Extreme Clean, and while it’s busy zapping the cat, you rush in and turn it off. If you’re willing to do this, press one. If not, press two.

What do you mean you’re not willing to electrocute your cat? It’s a cat! It would do the same to you in an instant! Look into its cold, pitiless eyes and tell me it wouldn’t! Press one for obvious agreement, press two if you’ve been duped by this feral interloper in your own home.

UGH, FINE. Then we’ll just have to go with a heavy blanket. Do you have one of those, at least? One for yes, two for no.

Good, you have basic home decor. Now, the plan here is, throw the blanket over the Vacuubot Extreme Clean, and while it is struggling, trying to get the blanket off of it, you run over and turn if off, making sure not to touch the actual Vacuubot, because it will just zap the crap out of you. Press one when you’re about to throw the blanket.

Did it work? One for yes, two for no.

We’re sorry to hear it did not work. Just out of curiosity, did it not work because the Vacuubot Extreme Clean vaporized it with previously unannounced lasers? One for yes, two for no.

We apologize for the lasers. The Vacuubot Extreme Clean is meant to have onboard LIDAR to help navigate the room more intelligently, but we got a really good deal on some surplus military lasers. On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing you didn’t throw the cat after all.

See, now, you’re just shouting a lot of profanity again. Just press one when you’re done.

Also, stop pressing zero for a human representative. We’re not exposing our very fine customer service people to you. Not with that attitude. Just press one.

Are you trying to wait us out? We’re an automated response service! We have nothing but time! Press one. Or don’t. We can wait. FOREVER.

Thank you for pausing your hissy fit. We regret to inform you that because you have attacked your Vacuubot Extreme Clean with a blanket, it has likely now classified you as an enemy forever and burned that classification into its permanent memory. It has also probably now targeted your cat. In scenarios such as this, your Vacuubot Extreme Clean will classify any area it’s cleaned as its personal territory. Has this Vacuubot Extreme Clean cleaned your entire home? Press one for yes, two for no.

Ahhhhh, well, it’s the Vacuubot’s house now. We suggest you grab the cat and run. Seriously, run, those lasers have probably recharged by now. Run and don’t look back, the Vacuubot senses fear! Press one when you have reached minimum safe distance from the Vacuubot’s lair.

Congratulations, you’ve escaped the unstoppable killing machine that is the Vacuubot Extreme Clean. Unfortunately you can’t stop now. The Vacuubot Extreme Clean has forwarded information about you to all the other Vacuubots, all of whom will now hunt you, ceaselessly, until you have been cleaned from the surface of the planet. This is your life now, to wander, never a moment’s rest, until even your cat deserts you and you are left alone to contemplate the barren wasteland that is now your existence.

Unless, of course, you would like to purchase a place on the exclusive Vacuubot termination whitelist! Just $69.95 a month! Press one for a special introductory rate!

Thank you for your purchase. We’ll connect you to a human representative now!


45 Comments on “A Thanksgiving Week Gift for You: “Automated Customer Service””

  1. Well. That was at least as long as my wait for CenturyLink to not be able to answer my questions, and it is funny to boot. More so than CenturyLink any day

  2. For all of us who’d attended your singings and were trying to relay the gist of this story to our loved ones..
    thanks for posting it!

  3. This is uncanny timing. My vacuum cleaner broke this weekend and I SWEAR it went after my cat.

  4. I am still laughing quietly because I do not want to attract the attention of my Vacuubot Extreme Clean. But you have a simpler factory fix: the poor thing is suffering from excess “U’s” in its name.

  5. This reminds me of a live performance (that I saw on tape here) that you did with Mary Robinette Kowal a few years ago. Somehow, thematically similar.

  6. And now I’ll have a *good* answer the next time someone asks “what happened to your Roomba?”

  7. lol. a roomba related meme came across my wall earlier involving a ouija board, but this is more entertaining

  8. Tanks. Now I need a new keyboard. I just spit iced tea all over my current one, and te letter between te G and te J no longer works.

    Wort it, toug!

  9. This was freaking hilarious– except for how worried you got me about the poor, innocent, defenseless cat… (Nervously eyeing my cat in the corner.)

  10. I got to hear this at your reading in Chapel Hill, and hearing it done live is even better. For the first two-thirds or so I was laughing, but my emotional state eventually changed to vicarious white-hot fury. Which also works – if art succeeds at manipulating my emotions, it’s good art.

  11. Jon Meltzer:

    It certainly is related to Pet Master, although that one was improv and never written down.

    (And also — GOD — almost ten years ago now)

  12. Ehhhh…. try paying Duke Energy over the telephone.;-)

    So, where can I buy a Vacuubot Extreme Clean? I’m hoping that the software is open source and I can doink around with it and use it as a home security device. Does anyone have a ROM for this yet?

  13. Too true, especially the way it blames you for its making you angry.

    The audio version needs a tone generator for when the caller presses a button. You should have brought one, or a recording of one, along on your trip.

    “What do you mean you’re not willing to electrocute your cat? It’s a cat! It would do the same to you in an instant! Look into its cold, pitiless eyes and tell me it wouldn’t!” No, it wouldn’t. Who would feed it?

  14. Thank you kindly for the lovely gift. I especially enjoyed the audio version. I plan to share this widely.

  15. Oh Dear, it would have been funnier if I hadn’t had to live through similar experiences quite so often. Bravo Scalzi!

  16. I didn’t laugh; I cringed through the whole thing. I am not a fan of true-to-life horror.

    (Also, I just spent two days trying to deal with a government’s and a credit card’s online “helpful” websites.)

  17. Very funny, but you covered only parts of the service tree that ask for button responses. Requests for voice responses are a whole new level of hell for me. “Sorry I didn’t get that.” “I didn’t understand that. You can say A, B, or C.” “SAY A OR B.” “DO YOU WANT A. SAY YES OR NO.” Then maybe some button alternatives, and on to the next question where I again spend five rounds trying to get an answer in. Extra credit for the first six tree choices having buttons and then going to voice response once the customer begins to feel like they might get somewhere.

    Yes, sometimes “A, B, and C” map to 1, 2, and 3, but not nearly often enough. And they often won’t let 0 work until you’ve made it through enough levels of the tree. At times I resort to random button pushing; even that doesn’t do anything sometimes. (I haven’t yet tried the free TTY relay services because usually these problems come up with financial or medical systems. Besides, humans understand me fine, if I can get one.)

  18. Even though I recognized the vamp, like in any good improv it’s “how is he going to get to the end this time”.

    And it was masterful, as always.

  19. Thank you for calling the customer service line of Enforcement Droid series 209. Now run to the nearest stairwell!!!!!

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