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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Twenty FIVE? Or 15? Or the more common 14 minutes? So just how long do you have to wait ‘on hold’ before you get through when ringing the United ticket line?
Is there anybody out there who hasn't wasted some proportion of the last season trying to get through and order tickets only to be held - at a profitable national rate number cost remember - for ages? Whether it be due to the lack of staff (after the cost cutting), or by design (delay the calls ever so slightly and make a more than slight profit), United are making a tidy sum from all of us tearing our hair out waiting on hold.
The amount of ST holders eligible to apply for an away ticket next season could be as many as 30,000 with the new additions. Not all of these will bother applying for away games but many will. Imagine even more delays - and the money United are going to make on the phonelines alone. It may be a penny here or there individually, but collectively I’d like it going into MY bank account each bloody week!
One Red who was being held one day at work last season, rang on another work phone through to the main switchboard to complain. Asking to be put through to “Mr Chubb” to complain directly, the Red was told: “He doesn't speak to the likes of you”. Nice. The record from a reader for being held last season was... 1 hour 20 minutes. Unreal!
Another RN reader was e.mailed about Blackburn away tickets still being available at the time. He e.mailed United: “I did respond by trying to buy two tickets for this game, however I gave up after spending a lengthy amount of time ‘on hold’ on the telephone. There is a limit to the amount of time I am prepared to wait, listening to recorded messages, knowing all the while that I am paying a premium rate. I also tried to contact the ticket office via the main switchboard. The main switchboard put me through, but the phone just rang out for almost 20 minutes before I gave up. The impression I was left with is that the ticket office is either vastly understaffed or supporters are deliberately being kept on hold in order to maximise your receipts from these phone calls.”
The club did actually mail him back: “We are sorry that you have had difficulties when trying to contact us by phone and looking at the date of your email we are assuming you called on Monday which unfortunately due to the Burton replay and the FA Cup 4th round draw (presuming we beat Burton of course!) it was a particularly busy day in the Ticket Office. The 0870 numbers we use are charged at National Rate (approximately 6p per minute) and not Premium Rate - these are usually 0871 or 0890 numbers but we certainly appreciate how frustrating it can be when you are on hold for any length of time. The switchboard operators can only put you through to the Ticket Office extension where the queuing system is on so we can answer calls fairly.”
I realise that the staff working in the TO are under pressure with a heavy workload but the problem remains that their bosses have cut staff in a dept where there should be more workers in, and United continue to rake in a slice of a, say, average, 10 minute hold that costs each of us 60p to make. A reader summed up the emotions whilst being on hold: “Perhaps the issue is not the cost, if it is just 6p, but the time and the sheer hopelessness of the void into which we plunge whenever we connect to their computer system. After about a minute a sort of despair sets in as we realise this may take some time, and we spend ages pondering the probability of the call being answered a milli-second after we give up and hang up. And there is the awful knowledge that hanging up means you've either got to do it all over again or miss a match. I tell you, there is some serious psychology at work here, with every second ‘on hold’ causing yet more pent up anger at United and the way it is run.”
When I have the stress making, time-consuming, fruitless exercise of trying to get through or make sense out of the robots manning the automated controls though the energising replay of the commentary in Barca ‘99 with its last minute finale may got you sitting back in anticipation of a climax to your enquiry, you’re quickly deflated. Twenty minutes later of mind blowing frustration, after being switched from the emotion charged commentary of Barca to a prolonged silence, followed by another ten minutes of silence, and eventually time and cost starts hitting your consciousness, I reluctantly hang up. Why am I spending all this time and effort when I’m not even in the loyalty pot and giving United money for an application I’m not going to win!
You then get to go through 6 options - corporate, Utd finance, coach travel. Can I please just speak to a human?Press number 3. Then the soundtrack starts again - this time it begins with Lee Martin's winner against Palace, followed through to the Cup Winners Cup Final, 5 years of eternity pass and its Eric's return, then his volley against the Vermin. Did I actually see all those moments or was I just sat on my arse on the phone to United listening to them at the end of a line?
At least if you're lucky you get to hear some recollections of happier times following the Reds but if you draw the short straw and end up getting the: “Please continue to hold” voiceover then my conspiracy theory mindset puts these delays down to a scheme by the Chuckle brothers to get a return on their interest rates. I phoned up for two seats for the West Brom Carling Cup game last year -hardly a world beater for demand. Yet I noted that this simple request on a dull winter Tuesday afternoon took 14 repeated ‘continue to hold’ messages, lasting 12 secs each - then a dialling tone which took a staggering 3 and a half minutes to finally connect with a human operator. Am I the only one who feels we are being conned on our telephone applications? Don't get me started on Euro aways and their bloody web site applications. For Lille I was told they hadn't had my travel details which I'd sent four weeks earlier via their ticket applications site. Apparently the site hadn't got them. That fucking shite website has a lot to answer for!
Last gripe. I know I am no spring chicken but surely those strobe lighting affects and orange fluorescent Nike and the like adverts throughout games at Old Trafford are OTT. I sit there visualising someone with epilepsy collapsing in a heap. Do the powers that be honestly believe that these adverts stimulate one to purchase their goods? If I could find the conduit cable I'd sabotage the bloody lot. Thank God none of our players look up long enough to notice them.
And finally, when entering yet another ballot for away match tickets which I never win. Why, when you enter your season ticket number for the ninth time do they then ask - ‘do you wish this number to be entered in the ballot’? For fucks sake after entering all that info I'm really going to say no aren't I?!
Teresa McDonald

Coming in October, Mihir Bose's revised look at United's finances

Manchester United: European Finals