The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


I remember accompanying mom two days after Christmas to go to Macy’s to return a present that she had purchased for my dad.  The shirt which we were returning had a small cut in it which we only discovered after dad opened his gift.

As we approached the returns/customer service counter we realized that we had walked into a sea of people all of whom were bent on the same mission – returning gifts or purchases.  Mom left me in line to wait our turn and went off to the shirt department to get a replacement for the one we were going to exchange.

As I stood in line waiting for mom’s return I couldn’t help look at the three women who were behind the counter.  They all looked very frazzled – and it was only 10:30 in the morning.  This truly must have been the time of year that these ladies in customer service dreaded the most.

But as beleaguered as they may have been with the wall of femininity that they faced, they all tried to keep a smile on their faces and to treat their customers with respect  Other than the fact that they might have felt this was they same way they would have wished to be treated – they had to.  Their customers were looking at them right across the counter.

I remember the first time I tried to make an inquiry about a charge on my bill from my local electric company and I was connected to a menu system to “expedite” my call.  I  was now on line with a very pleasant and efficient computer who would enumerate all the choices that I was allowed.

I found that annoying but finally we got to the option I wanted – “To talk to a human being – press or say “zero”.  So I pressed “0” and the magic of modern telecommunications did its job – after a 10 minute wait during which time I listened to the repetitive altering messages about ways to reduce my electric bill, really bad and annoying music and the fact that the utility “appreciated my patience and valued me as a customer.”

I always appreciate it when someone values me – on whatever level.

Now armed with knowledge of how modern customer service works, when I called my cable TV company several months later to discuss an upgrade to the speed with which I could enjoy the internet I was ready for what I knew was in store.  I was going to by-pass the whole menu thing and as soon as possible just hit the “0” button to be connected to a representative.

Great plan – but Cox Cable had anticipated my desire to accomplish my task in an expeditious manner and had rolled out a totally different menu system than the first one I had encountered.  As I waited for an opening to punch “0” I was required, “in order to expedite my call” to enter my home phone number.  When the computer read back the ten digits I had entered and asked me to verify that they were really “talking” to me I complied with the request.  Surely I was only seconds away from being able to punch that all important “0” button.  I was wrong.

Once the reality of my existence had been verified, the computer wanted to let me know how much my balance was .  Since I’m on the auto-pay plan the balance I owed was that all important “0”.  Having provided me with this information, the computer began enumerating her menu of choices.  I jumped at my chance to punch “0”.  But on this system “0” was an invalid choice.  When I got through the other eight choices I was informed that I could speak with a customer service representative by “pressing or saying nine.”

So I pressed “nine” and, sure enough,  twenty minutes later I was able to speak with one of Cox’s very efficient customer service people who wanted to resolve all my problems and questions.  Unfortunately, by this time I had forgotten the reason for my call – so I thanked him for his time and said I would call back when I was better.  Even though it was before noon, I went downstairs, poured myself a stiff drink and then took a long nap.  I was spent.

Based on these two experiences I have tried in every way to avoid being the recipient of any additional “customer service”.  Unfortunately, a situation arose as I was reviewing one of my credit card bills.  An item in the amount of $29.95 appeared on the statement from a provider in Malaysia.  I didn’t remember buying anything from anyone in Malaysia.  So out of necessity I dialed the almost unreadable little number on the back of my credit card.

I was steeled for the menu of choices which I expected to encounter.  Once again, I was wrong.  I was almost immediately connected to a real live person.

Apparently the issuer of my credit card has joined the host of American companies that have out-sourced this portion of their business to places overseas.  As far as I could tell the person with whom I was speaking had the extremely strong accent of a person who was in India.

Because of my training in music as a child I have a good “ear”.  This is a wonderful gift because it enables me to hear and understand things that people who are less musical might miss.  But even with this training, I had an extreme problem understanding this gentleman – and I think he had an equally difficult time understanding me.

After about fifteen minutes of repetitive conversation and explanation I realized that I had lost the battle.  In order not to be offensive to this man I said, “You know, sir I appreciate your effort to help me.  I know you are doing your very best and I want to thank you for that.  But you’ll forgive me if I say that I am having a very difficult time understanding you.  Would you please transfer me to a different customer service representative?”  This gentleman complied and asked that I hold on.  I was quickly transferred – this time to a woman.

Sadly, this lady spoke English in the same way as the first representative but an octave higher.  After fifteen minutes on the phone with her I was no further along in resolving the matter than when I had begun this exercise.

So I thought about it.  The credit card on which the charge had appeared was not one that I frequently used.  In fact, it had come to me unsolicited in the mail.  And I thought, maybe the best solution was simply to cancel it.  So I asked this second representative if they had a “cancellation department” – and she responded that they did and would transfer me.

The phone in the “retentions department” rang once and the phone was answered.  I explained that I wanted to cancel my card.  The man in this department asked why I would do such a thing – so I explained the situation.  (This man’s English was perfectly clear and easy to understand.)

He understood my problem, the fraudulent charge and promised to resolve the issue for me.  He put me on hold for less than half a minute, returned and told me that a temporary credit in the amount of the charge had been applied to my account and that they were sending me a “fraudulent charges form” which I should return within fourteen days of receipt .  He further assured me that their investigative fraud department would get to the bottom of all of this.  Then he thanked me for being one of the card issuer’s “most valued customers” and hoped that I would continue our relationship.

I thanked him for his time and assistance, agreed to keep the card open pending my satisfaction with the way they handled the matter and hung up.  A few days later I received the written communication from the credit card company as promised.  That resolved the issue.

So the moral of the story is this.  In today’s modern age of “customer service” if you want to get an issue resolved there’s only one way to go.  Threaten to end your relationship with the provider.  That’s a language they seem to speak and understand.


Comments on: "ON CUSTOMER SERVICE" (2)

  1. Yes outsourcing overseas can be quite a challenge as there are various interpretations of the English language around the world and some of them are harder than others to digest.

    • Despite having a number of neighbors who originally were from India and to whose accents I had grown accustomed, this presented a challenge beyond my capabilities.

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