Our Opinion: Automation has gone too far

Monday, April 10, 2006

A reader recently asked us about an article mentioning the 25-year natural gas franchise agreement with Interstate Power and Light.

That isn't the name of the company that the reader sends a check to for natural gas nor the name referred to in previous Chronicle Times articles about a franchise agreement.

A call to Cherokee City Hall confirmed that Interstate Power and Light and Alliant Energy are one and the same company but they were unable to say whether one company bought the other or there is a name change being undertaken or just what the two different names signify.

For clarification, we decided to call Interstate Power and Light, which in the newest edition of the local Qwest directory has a listing of "see Alliant Energy".

Most companies of this size will have a media contact person available at some 800 number but the only listings in the phone book were for customer service. We went through the lengthy procedure of pressing the most appropriate buttons to get a customer service representative, although the buttons pressed weren't appropriate at all since the only reason we wanted to talk to a service representative was to ask for a number to talk to a media contact person.

Eventually we got to a recorded message stating that a service representative would be available in approximately 38 minutes and we could be contacted by phone if we wanted by pressing an appropriate number. We decided that it really didn't matter that much whether Alliant Energy owned Interstate Power and Light or the other way around or they have some other relationship.

The frustration at dealing with recorded messages would not be any less if the end objective was to talk to a service representative. In defense of the company, whatever its name is, it did prompt the caller to press a button for a life-threatening emergency after only about a minute into the process.

But even for non-life threatening situations, a customer should not have to be put on hold for extended periods.

Companies should provide a human to talk to within a reasonable time. Only companies that have limited or no competition in their markets, such as utility companies, would consider operating in this manner.