Your call is very important to us…

Whenever I hear that message I often come to the same conclusion. If my call really was important then they would increase their service staff so I could speak to a human being right away. Instead you wait. You wait while your children fight. You wait while someone rings the doorbell. You wait all the way through an episode of some program you'd never watch on TV except for the fact that you are sitting around waiting. Of course if you finally get service of some sort it ends up being no better than a voice menu system that doesn't have any options you want. The other day I successfully navigated through four levels of voice menus only to have the system hang up on me at the end. I called back and it did it again. So next time I tried going to sales - the one place you can always speak to a human right away - and was given a different 800 number to call. I tried that number and after two levels of voice menus, my call was automatically transfered back to the first system. I guess the thing about 800 numbers being a free call is the old rule "You get what you pay for."

Of course, the latest trend in customer disservice is to have plenty of people to answer the calls who can barely speak or understand english. My daughter was flying alone and I needed to authorize a friend to pick her up at the airport. I called customer service (airlines treat their customers like baggage, except when they are being treated like criminals or terrorists) and spoke to an indian gentleman who kept insisting that my friend was authorized for picking up my daughter at departure. I kept asking about arrival, he kept saying departure. He read me back her information and said it was in the computer so I shrugged my shoulders mentally and gave up. Needless to say I got a call from the airline when my friend tried to get her pass to go to the gate. I explained to the clerk how her information should be right there in the computer, perhaps misfiled under departure. The clerk told me that she didn't have access to the same computer records as the outsourced customer service personnel. Now that's service for you!

I tried to get some customer service by email the other day. Of course I received an automated reply letting me know that they had received my email and would respond in such and such a time. But when the actual response came it could have been automated too. It seemed as though the person had scanned my email for one or two key words and then sent me some answer from a FAQ without bothering to actually read the text of my email. That is very likely what actually occured and it may have been because of the number of emails to which that person is forced to respond, or it may have just been a careless attitude.

A friend of mine used to say that how people behaved towards each other while driving was a good indication of the social climate. Clearly customer service, or lack thereof, is telling us something similar. The funny things is that if you look at the businesses that are doing very well they all have excellent customer service. If they don't, it is either because the product they sell doesn't really require any, or they hold a monopoly position in their market. But clearly the rest of the customer service world is either: running on a shoestring budget because it is not a "profit" center; besieged with requests for service because of being understaffed; or they just don't give a damn. Clearly "not giving a damn" is the main problem, and the flip side of this is that most people will put up with it.

This problem of how people treat each other in business pervades the job market as well. I've seen and been in too many job situations where the employees, the "people", just didn't matter to the company. Many of these companies need a revolving door on their personnel departments. But a lot of the blame lies with a society that just "takes" it. People need to stop bending over and gritting their teeth every time they go shopping, go to work and go to the voting booth. It is time for people to start treating each other "decently" and conversely kicking the asses of those who won't.

See part two.

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