Thursday, 28 August 2008

The number you first thought of

I'm not sure which is worse - too many call centre options, or too few. In two recent cases, I was told to return something in the enclosed envelope, which of course was not enclosed. The organisations in question were HM Revenue and Customs, and my local Borough Council. So, I thought I'd phone up to get the address (the one at the top of the form is rarely advisable; most mail to most organisations has to be sent to some kind of centralised collection point, a kind of paper equivalent of a call centre or website designed to keep you as far away as possible from the person who actually knows the answer to your question - which in my case is 'what was printed on the front of the envelope you didn't send me?')

HRMC offer just three options, in one layer. The first two have to do with, respectively, queries about cut-off dates for tax returns, and queries about my tax code. The third is 'any other queries'. This should have warned me. I don't know about you, but I can, in theory (not in practice you understand, I'm not yet quite ready to explore this level of instant self-induced insanity), think of several thousand questions I might want to ask HMRC, over 90 per cent of which fall into the category 'any other queries'. Imagine the length of that queue!

Well, I did, for about thirteen minutes, whilst I was entreated to go to the website (which of course I had already tried), or to hold on because 'your call is important to us' or words to that effect, read out by a girl who had obviously been unlucky enough to be first in the office that Monday morning, after a rather good Sunday night. In the end, I sent the form (about how much tax I thought I'd paid last year, which presumably they already know given that they've got the money) to the address at the top of the form. God knows if they'll ever get it.

I'm tired now, so I'm not going to go into the details of my Borough Council's deeply layered equivalent (the numbers of options at each layer seem to follow some kind of perverse, slightly deviant Fibonacci sequence). By the time you get to the bottom of that kind of mine, you forget what you were digging for. In the end, I decided I didn't really want a resident's parking permit anyway.

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