A welcoming voice

DUMFRIES — Dial a telephone number and have the call answered by — not an answering machine, not a paging service, not an automated, multi-menued program but — an actual human voice.

Ah, the good old days have returned to the town of Dumfries.

A person, not an automated system, began answering the phone at town hall Monday.

“Instead of having to go through the rigamarole of three or four menus, now you get a real person,” said Dumfries Town Manager Ron Waller.

That real person is Debra Ward. Ward joined the town staff as the administrative assistant for public works. An additional responsibility is answering the town hall’s phone.

“This is the first day that we’ve been doing it,” Ward said Monday.

“We’ve already gotten some good feedback,” she said. “[Callers] are kind of surprised to hear a human voice.”

They haven’t heard one at the Dumfries Town Hall for as long as seven or eight years, when the town installed its automated system, Waller said.

“It’s not a user-friendly system,” said Town Council member Stephanie Bradley. “It’s antiquated.”

Bradley is among the many council members who have been listening to complaints from residents about the phones.

Until Ward started answering the phones on Monday, all calls were picked up by the automated system. Callers who did not know the specific extension of the specific person or department they wanted to reach needed to listen to several menus before their calls reached their intended destinations.

“This is a government office,” Bradley said. “If you are a citizen calling your government, I don’t think you should have to listen to messages.”

Complaints about the automated system have been floating around for some time. After the matter was discussed recently at some Town Council work sessions and meetings, Waller decided to make the change.

The new answering procedure, however, is not infallible.

There will be times when Ward may be unable to answer the phone and the automated system will pick up. Additionally, if a call is answered and forwarded to a person who is using the phone, it will be sent to the voice-mail system.

“Still, we’re trying,” Waller said.

Staff writer Aileen Streng can be reached at (703) 878-8010.

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