A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
This commentary has nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with religion, nothing to do with the god awful state of affairs our government finds itself in, nor the financial mess the country and most of us, individually, share.
What it does have to do with is my recent venture into the muck and mire of endeavoring to deal with a number of customer service/customer relations departments of several rather large corporations.
Earlier this month, my wife and I decided to leave our mortgage-free home of over two decades, and move into a much smaller rental residence which will be far more economical—easier on our already badly strained budget.
In the spirit of full disclosure, allow me to explain, right up front, that my wife will not allow me to deal directly with ANY customer relations department. She says I am insensitive to the feelings of the personnel manning the phones at their respective call centers and that I have a temper, which I cannot control, and that I can be a real pain in the rear when I become frustrated with what I perceive as poor service from the people whose job it is to provide that service. I plead guilty to all the above.
Having set the stage, allow me to describe, as best I can (without profanity), the complete lunacy of our venture into the “la-la land” of customer service.
One thing: Is it just me – or is it too much to ask that customer service representative know, at least, some rudimentary details about the service(s) the company they work for offers? Huh?
To begin with, we asked our phone company to simply switch our phone service to our new address maintaining the same telephone number we have had for nearly 30 years. That is simple enough, you’d think. You would be WRONG!
Not only was our number not switched, but we were assigned a new number, which had already been assigned to a business of some kind! It took multiple calls to customer service and a threat to go to the state Utilities Commission -- and roughly ten days -- just to get that corrected and get our old number back.
A couple of days later, we realized our “busy call forwarding” had been disconnected, somehow, and it took an additional two days to FINALLY get someone to explain to us that the company “serving” us only offered that service within a bundle of other services – none of which we needed – plus, the price had more than tripled! We dropped it.
We got our working number, sans busy call forwarding, yesterday. Remember now, we moved into our new residence on the 8th of January.
When the cable installer came we asked for a second connection and were informed (on the spot) by the installer that we must have a written “letter of permission” from the landowner to install a second connection. We explained that the landowner was several states removed from our location and we were informed that we could fax the letter of permission to the cable company and the installer would make a second visit to our home to install the second connection… which we are paying for even now.
Why weren’t we told that when we originally contacted the cable provider and told them we needed to have our cable transferred to the new residence? Now we wait. While we wait we cannot enjoy that second connection, which, as I said above, we are continuing to pay for.
Trying to get a trash container at the new residence was a real eye-opener. It seems the company, which is a nation-wide organization, didn’t seem to have us on their books as customers even though they have been picking up our garbage for decades and we pay the fee each month.
After days of trying to figure out how to convince them we REALLY were customers, we learned, by word of mouth, that we must go to the county TAX OFFICE to request a new garbage can! How quaint! We got a new garbage can the middle of this week. All sorts of smart-alackey remarks spring to mind about taxes and garbage containers – none of which I will print here.
Some of you will not find this surprising. However, we rarely ever change our residence. So all of this blind-sided us.
During this melee, I made a few observations. I concluded that if the customer service reps were not so busy trying to sell us something they would have more time to actually listen to what we were saying -- and get it FIXED!
I also concluded that too many of those customer reps, on the phone, have little, if any, idea of what, exactly, their company does, let alone how it does it. This can only be the result of the lack of proper training. The fault for that lies directly at the feet of the company brass. They ought to be ashamed. The customer service reps, much like bank tellers of old, are the representatives of their companies who actually come into direct contact with their public -- and most importantly -- their customers. They become the face of that company. The customer service reps, of all the personnel of any company, have the most influence upon the future of a prosperous business or a failed business! It is elementary.
I am now convinced that those automated customer service menus we are subjected to when we phone customer service, are entirely too complicated for the average person and I have to wonder if that is intentional.
Several times, I became frustrated – and after starting the menu over several times and STILL not getting where I wished to go (electronically) -- that I hung up the phone.
I now believe that a frustrated customer hanging up the phone is considered desirable by some businesses and that explains their convoluted customer service menus. I don’t like believing this, but how else is it explained?
I learned that I was wrong in my belief that once I got a real, live, human being on the other end of the line all would be well, and my problem would be solved. I no longer believe that, either.
What I do believe, based on my most recent combat with various customer service departments, is that service is lousy in America.
Look: America stopped being a manufacturing society/economy a long time ago. We became a service economy. We provide service and services. At least, we SAY we do.
I must tell you that America provides awful service. What I just endured is pathetic… awful… unforgivable… indefensible, and just plain shameful.
This is no way to do business.
I am old enough to remember when American business actually took pride in a job well done. It was true from manufacturing an item, or creating a service, to “making it right” when something went wrong with the item they made or the service they provided. Sadly, that is not the case today -- and it speaks volumes about how and why America is in the mess that it is today. Apathy! In plain language… nobody gives a damn!
Good “customer relations” is a thing of the past. It now belongs among the relics of a by-gone era when Americans actually took pride in their work, took pride in the company they worked for -- and yes, the company took pride in its products and services and most important of all --did not take their customers for granted.
The REALLY sad thing about all this is – I don’t expect it to improve.
You see, Americans have become used to mediocrity. We have forsaken excellence.
Now we seem to just want to get by. The old expression: “Good enough for government work” seems to be the code of conduct prevailing in the American workplace today.
Until we again claim excellence as our goal in business, in government, in education, and in our personal lives, we can never hope to regain our position as the leader of the world.
J. D. Longstreet