May 04, 2010

An Efficient Phone Call? A Little Story for Our Times

After the American Century

The story I am about to tell is representative of a larger trend. Over and over, administrators proclaim that they are going to become "more efficient" and save money. Who can be against that? But in practice, becoming more efficient means just the opposite. 

Once upon a time, if I needed to make a conference call, I pushed one button on my phone, reached the operator, gave the numbers of the other parties, and then waited at most two minutes before our telephone meeting began. Clearly, my university found this terribly inefficient, I found out yesterday. I called the operator in the usual way and was told that now I am to arrange conference calls directly. To do so, I needed a set of instructions, which were emailed to me. After printing them out (3 pages) there were several points that were unclear. So I called the operator again for a discussion, focusing particularly on what my customer code number might be. That was something only the Department Secretary knew. Being hellbent on efficiency, I left my office immediately and found the Secretary, who was on the phone herself. After ten minutes I was back in the office with the code.

I was then ready to call the phone company. I listened to an automatic answering machine recite a list of options, managed to select the right one, and within another minute was talking with an operator in a faraway place who had never heard of my university. I gave him my name (would I spell that please?), my email, my department's name, the three phone numbers to be linked with, plus my phone number, plus the secret code number. The gentleman then promised to send me an email confirming the arrangement, with all the phone numbers listed so I could check them. Several minutes later the email came, with an attachment. I opened it, printed it out, and read it over. The numbers were correct. Time ellapsed: 45 minutes.  Time saved: minus 43 minutes (so far).

I still have not had that phone conference, which I ordered for later today. But I am proud of having mastered this new efficient system.

[I had imagined the call would be dialed automatically, but in fact an operator called me and then linked up to the others who were to take part in the meeting. All the preparation time was completely unnecessary.]