Wednesday, October 29, 2014


I've said it before and I'll say it again.  There is a "customer service" crisis in America right now.

I think it stems in large part from a fundamental misconception about the meaning of the words "customer" and "service."

"Customer" means I'm the one paying for an item that helps to keep a few people employed.  "Service" means you should probably do your best to help me and be nice to me, otherwise I may take my money and go elsewhere.  That latter thought should make you a little bit worried and sad, if you're running a business.

I really don't get the rudeness-thing.  It's at the point where I don't like to call customer service and I don't like to email them, but mistakes seem to be the norm and as a result, I kind of just don't even like to buy things anymore.

This is great for me, of course, but maybe not so great for the economy at large.  Although yes, I know, I'm only one very small cog in a mighty machine.  But still.

Latest case in point: I placed an online order, and I know I put in a shipping address that is different from my billing address.

As God is my witness, I know that.  I distinctly remember unchecking the "same as billing address" box, taking the extra 3 minutes to fill out a separate shipping address (why can't first and last name just be on the same line, as in:  last name, comma, first name?) and then running my wee index finger along the screen to double check that yes, I had filled it out correctly.  To save myself all kinds of trouble.

A day later I found out that my credit card didn't go through, so I had to call them about that.  So I did, they put it through, and the problem seemed to be solved.  My delivery could begin winging its way my way.

This morning, I discovered that they shipped my order to my billing address.  I called Customer Service, without a whole lot of hope, I'll admit.  My main--nay, only-- hope was, maybe they could contact the shipper and give them the address I had requested in the first place.

The woman who answered the phone--and she was a native speaker of English, so no leeway on that front--refused to believe me, when I explained what it appeared had happened.

She said, "Oh, no, that's not possible.  We don't EVER change shipping addresses."

I explained that I thought maybe it had just been changed when the credit card number was reentered, you know, a mistake, maybe, to which she said, "Oh, no, that's not possible.  We don't EVER change shipping addresses."

I'll spare you some of the gory details here and simply tell you that she said the above two sentences no fewer than 5 times in the course of our 5-minute "conversation." 

I really don't get this "service" "strategy."  If you attempt to engage me in a conversation, I tend to try go with the flow of said conversation.  So, for example, if you say you entered a shipping address different from the one that the merchandise is now being shipped to, I would probably say, "Okay, just a minute--let me check on that for you."

And then, if I have bad news to tell you, I would say, "I'm sorry, but from what I'm seeing here, it looks like the shipping address we have for this order is the same as your billing address...and the package has already shipped, so I'm afraid there's nothing I can do..."

I would try to trail off pleasantly, hoping that 1) you won't begin screaming at me in senseless rage, and 2) you will maybe suggest some way we can wrap this up on a friendly footing, perhaps by offering additional information so I can get a better sense of what happened here to create this customer service... rift.

If you told me that you called my company 2 days previously because they had to make adjustments to your order in order for it to go through the Customer Service system and be sent on its merry way, I might say, "Hmmm... let me see here," and stall for time while I weigh any and all means I might have at my disposal to help and/or pacify you.  

If I had none, I would say, "Unfortunately" (or "I'm sorry," since they're basically synonymous) and then I would explain why I couldn't change the shipping address at this time.  Again, my goal would be to keep you as a customer since I work for Customer SERVICE, and I would enlist a pleasant and professional demeanor and a seriousness of purpose as my best --nay, my only-- assets in this endeavor.

Did I mention that the 5 statements of  "That's not possible, we NEVER change shipping addresses" alternated with approximately 5 claims of, "Well, you must have input the wrong address.  That's the only way that this could have happened.  I'm sorry, but you are the one who input your billing address and that's why it's being shipped there."

Yeah.  Okay.

I don't think I'm a difficult person to get along with.  My neighbors have spontaneously commented on more than one occasion that I'm "one of the most easy-going people they know."   They have often remarked that they can't imagine what it would take to get me angry, because I'm inclined to see the humor and try to laugh most things off.

Up to a point, that is.

So, for example, when this Customer Service representative told me "That's not possible," I was going to point out to her that in fact, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle suggests that many chains of causality that might otherwise seem unlikely are in fact possible.   That's a picture of Heisenberg to the right over there and quite frankly, I'd rather he had been my Customer Service rep. this morning.  (He certainly looks far more cheerful than the woman I spoke to, despite the whole uncertainty-thing.)

I didn't mention Heisenberg, though, because before I could, the Customer Service Representative I was speaking with launched into an oddly aggressive series of questions: WHY was I going to be out of town for the weekend?  WHY didn't I have a mailbox at my billing address (I do, actually, just not one big enough to hold packages), WHY didn't I just call the post office and tell them to hold the package until I came back, and HOW LONG did I intend to be away?


I left a little pause there in the blog post, to reflect the fact that this barrage of questions forced me to pause and collect myself lest I explode in a responding current of senseless, expletive-riddled anger.  Something I'd really rather not do, given the choice. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have a Ph.D. in literature, but once a blue-collar working girl, always a blue-collar working girl.

Hence my immediate (and admittedly unfortunate) reaction to such kinds of verbal onslaughts is something along the lines of "Stick it up your ass, honey."

It's not very literate, I know, which is why I now pause in such moments, to try to gather my more educated sense of self.  I seek to marshal better verbal resources than phrases involving orifices and objects.  (I mentally remind myself to, "Be Buddhist about it.")

Because this is not the first time that this has happened to me.  On more than one occasion, a Customer Service rep. has demanded to know (in what I personally would characterize as a very "how-dare-you?" tone of voice) why I was where I was, doing what I was doing.

I wanted to point out that, in fact, I was engaged in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I also wanted to ask, "Well, but why are you where you are, doing what you're doing?  Why are any of us here, really, doing any of the things we're currently doing?"

Instead, in all of these instances, I patiently explained "the situation." I must say, though, that I'm slowly learning that being patient and polite in the face of such questions is somewhat pointless because 1) the person doing the demanding isn't ever satisfied with the answers, and 2) it makes no difference, they're simply going to say, "That's not possible: we don't EVER [fill in the blank]."

I ended up hanging up on this particular Customer Service Representative this morning.  Seriously.  I generally don't hang up on people, but in the past year, I've hung up on a Customer Service rep. three times.

And we haven't even hit the Holiday Season yet.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid. 

After I hung up, I tried an email.  At this point, I wasn't even asking for help anymore, I was simply filling an emotional need to say, "Hey, look, you know, this was kinda rude, treating a loyal customer this way.   I placed an order, a mistake was made, I called to ask for help to see if it could get fixed, and I got told to just deal with it."  (Which is true, the Customer Service rep. actually said, "Well, you're just gonna have to handle it yourself and figure something out, because there's nothing we can do."  Just like that, too.)

I received an automated email response in return in which they told me they looked, the shipping and billing addresses were the same, it had been shipped, so "apologies for any disappointment."

That's what they said. "Apologies for any disappointment."  I didn't like that.  That was my tipping point in all of this.

I kind of felt like, you know, I don't deserve to be treated rudely or spoken to like a petulant child, when I am (was), in fact, a paying customer.   And my purchase had been a substantial one.  And I had dealt with this company since the early 1990s.

So I wrote back to say that "disappointment" wasn't the issue, that customer service had been rude, and that I would simply return the delivery when it arrived and no longer do business with them.

They sent yet another automated response in which they "thanked" me for my "input" and said that they would "address" the issue "in the future," because "all feedback, whether positive or negative" is very important to them.

They actually signed it, "Your friend at Company X, Jill."  So they've emptied the word "friend" of all meaning as well, to add to the vacant terms "customer" and "service."

So I wrote one last email (no one can ever say I'm not persistent) in which I said, "You clearly don't care about keeping a customer who has spent a great deal of money on your merchandise over the past 20 years.  No need to send another automated reply that says nothing."

And that was the end of it.

Quite frankly, I don't know about how any of you out there would feel after such an altercation, but I now no longer want what I ordered.  I can't imagine keeping it or feeling good about it, because I would always think about the fact that I paid a lot of money for it and I was treated rudely in return.

My dad used to say, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you."  Lately, "customer service" bites.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."