The art of completing a phone call with an automated voice system—without having a meltdown


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Recently, in the midst of step three of my health-insurance company’s automated customer service system to get my call directed to the correct department, I got sassed. “I’m sorry, you seem to have entered the ID number incorrectly,” the interactive voice response patronized.

So I snapped back at what’s sure to be Siri’s demonic cousin: “You seem to be a dumb bitch.” Demonic Siri paused for a moment before continuing. “Okay, let me connect you with a representative.” But before that actually happened I had to hang up. It was time for therapy, because of course it was.

I’ve been in steady battles with interactive voice response systems since I got on the birth control pill years and years ago—and my relationship with this techy monstrosity has been marked by nothing more significant than barrels of tears, skyrocketing cortisol levels, and expletives. Different brands use different systems with different voices, but in effect, they’re really all the same, and they manage to enrage me to equally high measures.

Like, if could get what I need by simply getting online and navigating a website, do you think I would ever dare to make a phone call? And do you think it feels good to know that a robot alone can raise my symptoms of anxiety? No! That’s just embarrassing. And to all the “helpful” reasons that interactive voice response systems are kept in place, I say BS. The reality is that they’re designed to keep you on hold. A company’s hope is you’ll get so frustrated jumping through these hoops that’s you’ll give up on your mission to ask for an adjustment on your cable bill or on fight an exorbitant insurance bill.

So clearly, being able to navigate these anger-provoking phone calls is an important life skill—because stress and happiness (and, yeah, money). Below, learn exactly how to keep Demonic Siri from getting the best of you, with tips from a psychotherapist.

1. Be prepared

No matter how many times you’ve done this song and dance, you still end up digging your ID card out of your wallet or scouring your mail pile for your account number mid-call. That’s mistake number one. Before you pick up your phone, make sure you have your voice automated system survival kit right in front of you.

Mistake number two? Expecting to receive fast service despite never having experienced such a thing before. “I recommend that individuals put aside at least twice the amount of time they believe it will take for the call so that they’re not rushed or don’t have to end abruptly and start the entire process over again,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW.

2. Carve out time

I get it—you’re busy. To that point, you have three options for your method of attack: Option One: find a block of time to fight the interactive voice response system during your endlessly long workday. Option Two: Come home exhausted after your endlessly long workday and use your remaining energy to shriek “REPRESENTATIVE” into the void. Option Three: Compromise your weekend for such hellish tasks. So, clearly, all of these options stink, but if you have a lazy Sunday ahead of you, that might actually be the best plan you have.

“Knowing that this process is not enjoyable for most people, I always encourage individuals to make these calls when they have nothing better to do,” says Silvershein. “That way it doesn’t bleed over into anything else in the day or just ruin your day in general.”

3. Create a soothing environment, and keep things in perspective

“When you start feeling anger or frustration come over you, take a minute to reflect and realize that this call is a choice you’re electing to make, and that you can hang up if needed,” Silvershein says. “But also remember how good the achievement feels once you’ve conquered the automated system. A few ways to reduce the feelings of anger and frustrations could be taking deep breath, or making some tea, or putting on some relaxing background music.”

Even though combating an interactive voice response system is exhausting, conquering it may ultimately better you because you’re completing your task at hand and also providing evidence to yourself that you can do anything. Silvershein says you can handle whatever little annoyances or frustrations come your way so long as you’re willing to endure the challenge.

Personally, I’m willing to at least try because otherwise I’m down the $1,750 my health insurance company is trying to pry from my cold, dedicated, persisting hands. *Takes deep breaths, puts kettle on the stove, flips on “meditative” playlist*

Related: Phone separation anxiety is a real thing. Here’s what to know about it. Plus, here’s why anxiety sometimes seems to get worse at night.

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