by Catherine Breese
Why is it that I can listen to thousands of great sounding songs right here on my smartphone, but when I’m waiting on hold with any number of companies they play something that sounds like it is coming from an old cassette recorder dropped into bottom of a metal garbage can? My friend Ken says that they do that purposefully to discourage customers from calling. He may be right. Then, the tin music is interrupted about every 30 seconds by a voice reminding me that I can go online at the company web address and handle all my needs there. It says this as though I have never heard of the Interweb. Please.
Ah, customer service. What does customer service actually mean in 2014? After hours of trying to change my address with every company, creditor, insurer, employer, bank, magazine, and membership organization to which I belong, I can tell you a lot about it. YOU are your own customer service agent. You wait on yourself. If the service agent is slow or rude, well, see yourself about that. Nowadays, we are asked by nearly every company to get online, create a user name and a password, and serve ourselves.
The Virginia DMV actually warns that it charges a $5 fee if you complete a transaction in their office that you could have made online…and we all know what a pleasure it is to complete any transaction at the DMV office. Heck, I cannot even call Verizon, my wireless phone provider, on my telephone. The phone call rolls right over to my browser, conveniently opening up Verizon online.
Not that talking to a customer service agent was ever a celebratory experience. But until recently you could, at least, handle a few things over the phone. Those days are over. In the last week, I have created a total of six new online access user names and passwords. I have written these down. I have carefully placed them somewhere where I will definitely be able to find them, in six or eight months, when I next need them. Definitely.
What happened to all those people who used to assist me by phone? I think at least some of them are still sitting in a dimly lit cubicle, waiting patiently for someone to click on that popup icon. You know the one—the little box asking you, the customer, acting as service agent, if you’d like to “talk” to someone. Then, if you are venturesome enough to click, you will type a conversation with a person(?) who replies with a number of well written responses he/she’s got handy. Is typing a conversation with someone easier or more convenient than talking? I think not. But I’m old school like that.
The gold standard of customer service, in my experience, is Lands’ End, a company that still answers the phone without a hold, and who still helps every customer who calls with more information about their products than anyone could need. I love them. Erie Insurance was also fantastically kind and polite on the telephone when I made a claim this past year. On the other end of the customer service spectrum are the despicable cable companies. I have never had a single pleasant experience on the phone with any cable provider in any city in which I have lived. I called Suddenlink in Charleston once and was told by the recorded voice that they were simply too busy to handle my problem and I should choose a different time to have a problem.
Ultimately, I don’t mind waiting on myself. “Thank you for calling, Catherine. This is Catherine. How may I be of assistance?” I’m very efficient, and I am never rude to me. I have a problem with spelling, but my excellent manners and friendly attitude more than make up for that. Now if I can just come up with a foolproof system for remembering usernames and passwords, my economic life can go on, virtually, without having to make any human contact. Sweet.