Like many of you, I have worked from home for the past three months, and it has given me a chance to familiarize myself with my new surroundings. It turns out that this place I’ve slept and watched ballgames on weekends for 30 years needed a few repairs. My wife says she has informed me about these problems in the past, but I was apparently distracted by the Braves and SEC football.
Once I settled in to this strange environment, I took a look around and saw a malfunctioning printer, a sputtering computer, and other devices in need of the two words I fear most: “technical support.”
The state of customer service is not good. Recently, I switched internet providers because of a certain company that wrote the book on bad service.
Since I made the change, my previous provider has flooded my mailbox with invitations for me to “come back.” They are offering me faster speed, better service, and I think they promised to paint my garage. Honestly, if they had even answered the phone when I was their customer, I would have never left.
My first few weeks of quarantine were spent listening to “hold music.” You know, that screechy noise they play between the insincere messages: “Your call is very important to us. Please remain on the line for the next available agent.” After a few rounds of that, I hear a phone ringing. Success! I’m about to speak to a human. Nope. The next message informs me, “We are experiencing a high volume of calls. Wait times may be longer than usual. You may want to call back during the next leap year, or when Cher retires again, whichever comes first.”
I know that my call is not that important to them. If it was, a real person would answer, and I wouldn’t have to navigate the annoying phone tree. “For English, press one. Para español, oprima dos.” That’s not so bad. But it gets worse.
“If you have questions about your warranty, press three. If you are checking on an order, press four. If you’re going to San Francisco, press five. If you’re planning to wear a flower in your hair, press six. If you’ve ever trimmed your weeds and found a bicycle, you might be a redneck. To speak with Jenny, call 867-5309.”
Eventually, after waiting on hold long enough to grow a ZZ Top-style beard, a live person speaks to me. I’m stunned. When he asks how he can help, I have to think for a minute. Why did I call? I can’t remember. When I first called, the leaves were brown, and Bush was president. Was it daddy George, or son George? I’m just not sure.
I finally remember. “My printer stopped working,” I said. “No problem,” he responds cheerily. “I will need your name, address, the phone number it’s registered under, the printer’s model number and serial number, date and location of purchase, your mother’s squash casserole recipe, and the nuclear code known only to the guy in the dark suit who travels with the president. And just like ‘Jeopardy,’ you must respond in the form of a question.”
Of course, I have the nuclear code in my wallet, but which phone number did I give them? I have no idea.
“One more thing,” he says. “In case we get disconnected, I’ll need a call-back number.” I dutifully respond, and sure enough, moments later the line goes dead, and I hear silence. I never hear from him again. I’m too exhausted to climb back up that phone tree. It will have to wait until tomorrow.
When we begin to rebuild our economy, here’s how we put people back to work. We require these huge companies to hire enough folks to make customer service a priority.
Instead of having to wait on hold for a month, someone from the phone company would contact us every week, just to check in. “Dave, how’s it going? Is there anything we can do to help?”
If that happens, I already have my phone greeting ready to go. “You have reached the Carroll residence. Please listen carefully, because our options have changed. Earlier today, we were thinking pizza for dinner, but we are suddenly craving Mexican. It may be dine-in, or it could be carry-out. It’s good to have options. Please hold, and the next available family member will take your call.” After a few minutes of 1960s bubblegum music like “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” another recorded message will play. “Due to an unusually high volume of calls, we may not be able to respond until the Atlanta Falcons make it to the Super Bowl. Goodbye.”
Maybe, just maybe, if they got a taste of their own medicine, they would understand how to do customer service again.