Friday, August 9, 2013

Is Anyone There?

Can you hear me or read me or acknowledge me now!

Does anyone care!?

Interactions with live humans at a lot of businesses are a rarity today. Recent attempts to contact companies and obtain some basic information resulted in less than positive exchanges.

I am writing an article about a new male zumba instructor at our gym. Male instructors are not unheard of but a minority. I wanted to know the percentage of male vs. female teachers. I went right to the source – the zumba website, foraging around for quite a while with no luck. I finally sent an email request for information.

An automated email response informed me the information could be found on the corporate website.

Really? Where?

The data may be available somewhere on the site. But finding it is not easy. Are there any real people in a physical office, or employees working at home, reading e-mails and other correspondence?

Why offer an email option if no one is going to look at it?

My second effort involved the health industry, often a mind-boggling, exasperating and time intensive experience. I needed a recommendation for a specialist from my family doctor. No problem, or so I thought.

The doctor provided one name.

The specialist was not listed on my health insurance company’s website. I emailed the company with a request (a strategy suggested on the website) – are you sure this specialist is not in network? The email form had a place to check the days and time of day I could be reached by phone.

A week later I receive a letter in the mail with a list of network doctors in my area.

I guess I should be happy someone read the email, although not too carefully. The email contact form asked specifically if I wanted a phone call, and I checked yes. They could also email me. The option chosen - snail mail - was not an itemized alternative.

I called my doctor again for another recommendation. The following day the office left a voice mail providing two names, one of which was the out-of-network doctor.

Luckily the second name was in network.

Thinking about less-than-adequate customer service brings to mind my cable company. It is always fun to bash cable companies, my company in particular known for inferior service. Call and you are treated to a lengthy marketing message tempting the customer to upgrade service.

Why would I pay more for additional features when having problems with my current service? Don’t I send enough money to you guys each month?  Pay more and I will have more issues and more to complain about. No thanks!

The wait for a customer service rep can be anywhere from two minutes (rarely) to 45 minutes or longer. I do not know if a living, breathing person actually answers the call after all that time; I never hung around long enough to find out. I suspect very few people stay on the line a long time. I usually hang up immediately if the delay is longer than ten minutes.

I envision the customer service room of many major corporations across this great land to be a large chamber with row after row of desks, each equipped with a computer monitor. An eerie sensation engulfs the visitor when stepping inside the area any time of day or night. The almost silent, hushed sounds emanating from a far corner eventually draw you over to two people sitting at their desks, earphones on, intently gazing at their monitor and speaking to unseen consumers.

If people ever inhabited the other desks, they are long gone. Terminated, fired, laid off, transferred – disappeared.

Frustrated customers every single day, every hour of the day and night, seek help with cable, phone, or wireless issues, problems with their computer or other electronic gadgets, have questions concerning banking matters, etc. Every one of them are anxiously, hopefully trying to contact an individual who will take pity on them, help them, and maybe fix their problem.

Meanwhile in a far-off land across the vast oceans, in a metropolis teeming with trained customer service representatives speaking barely recognizable English, employees working for companies with contracts with other companies toil at their monitors, struggling to support people throughout our country, solving their technical issues, answering questions, attempting to upgrade their service and sell service contracts.

But, alas, these jobs too are dwindling. CSRs are an archaic product of an age when companies sought to help and keep customers. I guess with the massive numbers of people around the world moving into the middle class, companies believe the number of new customers limitless. Or they have a monopoly.

So top management huddles in conference rooms furnished with expensive wood tables and chairs, overlooking a magnificent city or beautiful landscape, and deliberate:

Why bother to pay people to appease those with problems? Let’s concentrate on new customers. We’ll forget about problematic consumers – defined as anyone who calls with a question or product issue - and move on. And if we continue to demolish the competition, people will have no choice.

And the head honchos rub their hands together in glee.

Welcome to the every-consumer-for-himself (or herself) era.


  1. I'm still hanging onto my DSL connection even though it isn't as fast as I could get with cable, because my ISP is right across town, answers the phone personally on the first or second ring, fixes whatever needs fixing, and if (in the PC days) I had viruses and stuff he'd ask if I minded dropping off the computer. I'd drop it off on the way to my mail route and pick it up on the way back. Clean. No charge. After having spent an entire MONTH with all my free time communicating (!) with someone named Victoria in India, and bursting into tears when these guys got me up and running, I'm not about to let them go.

  2. I hear ya'. Trying to get any customer service these days is about the most frustrating thing you can imagine (although I did get a polite, knowledgeable representative on the phone to answer my Medicare questions; but I did have to wait 15 minutes.)

    So you know what gets me about the cable company? They offer "Free on Demand" -- basically reruns of old TV shows. Free? They mean, after you've already paid $140 a month for their service! And if you want anything good, like movies or HBO, you have to pay even more! Hrummph!

  3. Customer service?
    My son worked for a company that handled Medicare questions. He was given a script and told not to deviate from it. A question not addressed by the script? Refer the caller to a web site and return to the script immediately. Good grief, a technique that is frustrating enough when one is trying to get computer help. Can you imagine getting help with medicare questions in such a system.
    I was actually glad my son quit that job.
    And Medicare! Don't get me started. Mike, depending on when he is finally discharged from the hospital, may have to have a couple of weeks on a drip line antibiotic. Medicare will pay for visiting nurses, but not for the IV medicine. They will, however, pay for a nursing home where the IV can be given and in that case they will also pay for the medicine--at literally ten times the cost.
    Something is wrong with our "best health care in the world." I believe it is called bureaucracy.

  4. Cable companies should pay attention, since I think they will be going the way of Kodak film cameras. There are more and more ways to get your information that are more sane and give you what you want. It's really amazing how quickly our electronic world is changing! But customer service continues to go down the drain...

  5. My understanding is that they've actually done research to figure out how long they can keep you on hold so that you'll hang up, leaving them free of your problem, but not cancel your account. It once took me 2 1/2 hours, plus numerous repetitions of "I'll have to transfer you to . . ." before I got someone who could give me what I needed, but I was determined not to hang up. Another time, after I'd demanded to speak to two levels of supervisors and was told by the second that she could absolutely not give me what I wanted OR connect me to her own supervisor, I told her I was cancelling and was very sorry she had to work for a company that treated its customers so badly. Her response? "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

  6. I suppose that is a part of the corporate attitude that they don't give a darn about the customers. It seems that more and more businesses have less and less customer service.

    One of the medical specialist doctors that I have has a system where the patient calls for an appointment, is transferred to another line after pushing the required button, and then asked to leave a message with phone number, birthdate, and what the medical problem is. The specialist's office then calls back, sometimes soon, usually at least a couple of hours later, once it was the next day. All of this is just to make an appointment. So I guess that it works out that I am having to make an appointment to make an appointment.

  7. And somehow that imaginary room that you describe is more horrifying to me than any end-of-the-world scenario in a movie could ever be. Probably because it may already be a reality.