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And the winner of the phone menu award is...

One of the joys of moving house is becoming a connoisseur of telephone systems. With a whole host of organizations to contact, particularly while we were without a usable internet connection, the phone became a vehicle for an exploration of the darkest corners of wild and wonderful voice menus, encountering recorded messages from the seductive to the terrifying.

Thankfully, the days are long gone when you were likely to be subjected to a tinny electronic rendering of Fur Elise, or some such masterpiece, but the masters of phone automation have come up with many alternative tortures in its stead. I particularly like the artistry of those voice systems where the hold music is interrupted every five seconds by a voice telling you to hold on, because your call is important to them. Every time the music stops you think 'this is it, I'm through' only to get that tedious message once more. Even more evil are the systems that occasionally throw in a ringing tone. That, you think, really does mean you are going to speak to a person. And then a new recorded message starts.

However my accolade for worst system I encountered goes to... (opens envelope slowly)...

Royal Mail. They win for two reasons. One is that every single time I called them (and it has been a few), I was told that they were 'busier than usual' or 'experiencing unusual call volumes' so I'd have to wait longer. Sorry, if it happens every time, it is usual. But the clincher is the sheer number of voice menu selections required to ask a question about an existing mail redirection. It's seven. Seven separate menus, at least three of which basically ask the same questions. Such byzantine complexity has to be designed with evil intent. No one could be quite so bad by accident.

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