Richard Wilson On Hold Review: Automated Swindle

RICHARD WILSON ON HOLD: Monday 16th January, C4, 8pm

“Before I made this programme, I was angry,” says Richard Wilson towards the end of this documentary. “Now I’m very angry..”

Call-centre switchboards can turn the most easy-going of us into Michael Douglas from Falling Down, so no prizes for guessing what they do to the man that brought us Victor Meldrew. As such, this could have been a rather mundane look at how long-winded automated services are pretty annoying – the televisual equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel – yet Richard Wilson manages to take the material further by demonstrating how multi-national companies are bringing in rubbish systems which cost us money and stress us out, simply to make more cash. The likelihood is that like Wilson, viewers will end up annoyed, yet experts seem to think that this trend will get much worse. With many of the companies concerned refusing to accept that there’s even a problem, it looks like a depressingly accurate assessment.

Everyone has their own personal call-centre bugbear.. (Mine is the fact that after finally tracking down a customer services number, one of the first things the recorded message tells you is that you might be able to resolve your problem online. ‘I know this’ I think. ‘But I want to speak to someone and believe me, if I could resolve this online I wouldn’t be putting myself through this purgatory’) ..Anyway, Richard Wilson starts by calling up a few companies and comparing wait times. The guilt-ridden banks off pretty well, but energy companies perform dismally. It took one woman an hour to speak to a human being at one (E-On hang your heads in shame) and of course this all comes off the back of massive price hikes last year. As you can imagine, they’re all making a bit of cash from the premium numbers they use too.

The worst part is the way the corporate stooges tell you that they pass the money they save on to their customers. And if you believe that, then you’ll believe anything..

Next up are the self-service tills at supermarkets, an evil that most of us will probably have become used to. “I’ve never met someone who thought to themselves ‘Ooh I wish we had self-service'” says a bloke from leading consumer magazine Which? But what really reverberates here is the unadulterated newspeak from the companies themselves, who insist that customers ‘like the choice’ these bleeping irritants offer, almost like a traffic warden who believes that he’s providing motorists with a service.

Speaking of traffic wardens, the scene in which Wilson tries to pay for a parking spot is one of the most aggravating. Watching him go through an epic amount of rigmarole just for a £2 ticket, shows the amount of crap some councils are willing to ditch on us in a bid to increase profits, made worse because it comes at a time when vehicle-owners are being forced to tighten there belts to the point of bisection. Those with businesses in the West End will already view Westminster Council with utter contempt, yet it seems that they aren’t the only ones at it..

Essentially, the whole programme simply illustrates how big firms are saving themselves money and hassle by getting us to do parts of their job for them. In the process they are employing less staff, contributing to unemployment, creating greater margins for themselves, infuriating us and all the while denying that it’s even happening. Bloody corporations..