Wednesday, June 4, 2014


As the world has become more and more computer savvy, there seems to have been a major decline in people skills. Nobody has the time to be a real person when there is so much going on in the world behind our smart phones.

But it isn’t just the fact that most of us no longer have the time to get to know our neighbors or even our fellow workers. Businesses no longer have the time to know their customers. The pressure to accomplish all of our needs on the internet has become overwhelming. Social Security checks must be deposited electronically, and taxes paid the same way. Good luck ever talking with a real person as we fall into the deep well of resolving business issues with a major corporation.

I wrote the following piece a few years ago but, if anything, the problem has gotten worse. Good luck in Searching for Customer Service (Granite Grumblings: Life in the Live Free or Die State,  2011, Snap Screen Press).


Glenn K. Currie

 

Searching for Customer Service

New Hampshire used to be a plain-speaking, down-to-earth place where we did business with a nod and a handshake. We sorted out our customer service problems directly. If we had a question, needed to change an address or wanted to discuss an issue, we picked up the phone and talked to a real live New Hampshire person. Life was simple.

The demise of customer service really occurred when some evil geniuses invented the “decision tree” automatic answering systems. These systems suddenly provided both corporate America and government bureaucracies with an unlimited number of degrees of separation from the customer. They found that extensive use of these devices almost completely eliminated any real communication with the customer. For many of these companies, the systems have allowed them to replace their customer service departments with a well-trained cockatoo, and reassign critical human resources to such pressing issues as developing new bonus plans and redesigning forms.

Installing these systems has resulted in dramatically reducing customer complaints. This has been accomplished by initiating a diabolically clever war of attrition with the consumer. The first assault is to task the caller with fifty or sixty button-pushing decisions. Hardly anyone over sixty is going to even remember why they called after being put through eight decision trees. This immediately eliminates many of the callers who don’t have enough spare time to actually proceed through this jungle.

Unfortunately, I was faced with an issue that could only be resolved directly, and I was forced to continue through this maze. The next step in the process was to be told that I would be allowed to speak to a real person in “x” number of minutes. I learned after the first couple of tries to multiply this number by six. A word of caution to novices: if the first waiting time they give you is more that ten minutes, that is their secret code for  “we have gone home for the night”. Do not try to outwait them in this circumstance because the phone is automatically programmed to disconnect you after eight minutes. Their final ploy while you are waiting is to assault you with a carefully selected assortment of brain-numbing music, designed to turn you into a vegetable. This will leave you on an IQ level with whomever you finally speak to. 

I survived this test by just leaving the phone off the hook on my desk until I heard a voice. When I finally reached a live person, I explained that I was calling to have the phone company disconnect a phone that was in the name of my recently deceased father. I was told in broken English that they would only speak to my father regarding this issue, and then they hung up. Accepting this challenge in the true New Hampshire spirit, I redialed, went through the whole process again and then told them I was my father and I needed to cancel my phone because I was dead.

They were fine with that. Given the waiting periods involved with these systems, it probably happens to them all the time.

 

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