Most Annoying 4-Word Sequence in the Entire English Language: “But, the computer says…”

This article is years in the making and I guarantee I’m not the only one that has been frustrated to anger by this brain-cell-killing issue.

Here’s the scenario: you call up customer support for say an unpaid bill notice that you know for certain, you damn-well paid. The conversation may go something like this:

Customer Support: “Hello, how can I help you today?

You: “Yeah, I just wanted to check on my bill. It’s been paid already, yet I got a notice that it hasn’t been.

Customer Support: “One moment, while I look that up for you.

You: “Thanks.

Customer Support: “I’m sorry sir, but the computer says that payment has not been made yet.

Argument ensues until finally it escalates to the point where you finally talk to a supervisor (usually someone that actually has a modicum of understanding of how the company they work for, actually works)…

…but, perhaps you’re now even forced to argue with them, until finally, finally, they either make a phone call or dig a little deeper and find out that yes, you in fact have made payment! What happens next is often predictable…

Customer Support: “I apologize for the inconvenience, it looks like we have in fact received your payment, but since there’s no way for me to mark this as paid what I can do is have you pay it again and I’ll just credit you next month for your bill.

The problem isn’t that they were rude (if that was the case), the problem isn’t even that they made a mistake, the very root of the problem is general ignorance. I don’t use the word “ignorant” in a very derogatory, mean-spirited, negative way, but just an unfortunate statement of fact.

We’re all ignorant to one degree about something or another. Certainly, no one knows everything. But, if it’s something important to you, your job, a passion, a hobby, whatever, you really should work on learning the ins and outs and really understanding it.

So, what is it exactly that I’m talking about, that almost all customer support reps are ignorant of?…

Computers are not Magical or Infallible

Just because the “computer says” does not make it an irrefutable fact. In fact, most of these system’s programs are merely data storage with very little calculation at all and a lot of the info is simply entered by humans.

Going even further, a program is of course programmed by a programmer ha ha. A programmer is a human. No matter how good a program is, it has limitations. So, the next time you ask X company to please update X on your account and they tell you “Sorry, I can’t do that.” try not to go into a rage because most likely the reason isn’t because of company policy, or some arbitrary reason, most likely it’s probably because it’s not something the program is even capable of doing.

Of course, a lot of support reps probably don’t think critically enough to even have had that epiphany, most likely they’ve just accepted that there must be some good, logical reason for it and could possibly even give you a rude tone in an almost involuntary push to defend this unknown “can’t do that” rule that has become apart of their duties.

A lot of things, you may not have realized, could actually be manually fixed regardless of the automated system. Nothing is impossible as a rep might have you believe. But, the bigger the company is, the more unreasonable it is for the programmers/developers/technicians/engineers (whatever the company calls them) to allocate manpower for such manual fixes at the individual level and it just becomes a simple “No.” and that’s fair.

As long as it doesn’t become too far out of their hands to the point of them being…

Slaves to Their Own Systems

A lot of times, companies (of all sizes) have shitty, out-dated systems, and instead of building their software around company policy, ideals, and what’s best for the customer, it becomes one big workaround, where they must design their policy, how they deal with customers, their basic workflow, around the limitations of this system itself, that for one reason or another, they’re stuck with.

Sometimes, it’s really not the support reps fault at all, sometimes they’re only trained as script-readers and it’s not important to the company that their lower-level employees understand how things really work.

It’s kind of a catch 22, but not really. Whether it’s the customer rep’s fault or not for their ignorance, you have no control over the fact that 9 out of 10 times, they just are going to be ignorant and unlikely to be able to be of much help for critical issues. I suppose a good argument would be that that’s why lots of companies have this multi-tiered support system that starts you at the bottom, thrown in with the average dumb consumers being asked stupid questions like “Did you plug it in?”

From there, it’s sort of an intellectual struggle to convince the support staff that you’re not their 50th dumb customer of the day, and that you do really have, a legitimate issue that script-reading will not fix this time.


I’ve only ever run and managed small to mid-sized companies and I really couldn’t fathom the struggles and difficulties of companies with millions of customers.

With that said, customer support reps will go on being ignorant, and I’ll go on being annoyed by them. Really, all that I can do is try to be less annoyed with that inevitable situation.

Who else has gotten the dreaded, cringe-worthy: “But, the computer says…” of doom?