Saturday, July 26, 2014

CUSTOMER SERVICE (or so I'm told) - An Essay on Frustration

This is a reprise of an earlier about Customer Service. I'd like to say that things have improved over the years since I originally posted this rant. Apparently some things never change. Over the past three or four weeks, I have had a deja vu experience with my cable TV and internet service. Every single Saturday morning around the same time, both simply go out. Sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for several hours. Happened again this morning. So-I call Comcast. Yes, I know, but I seem to enjoy the pain of banging my head against a brick wall. I was told that my modem wasn't 'registered'. That's interesting because I pay a fee for it every month. (Makes mental note to self to see about purchasing own modem and give Comcast back their crap.)

I gave up with the internet service rep and called the Cable TV problem line. While she was busy checking my account, the cable came back--but not the internet. She transferred me to another line for internet service. I was told it would be a long wait. My cell phone is beeping to warn of low battery. I give up! Ten minutes later service comes back on, so I go online to check for outages. A note with a red exclamation point says "Outages reported in your area." Um...would someone alert Customer Service? (Well, you see where this is going.) Sadly, the experience of seven years ago continues. I was given the option of receiving a Quality Care callback about my experience. I usually ignore those, but chose it this time. I got the automated call. I was asked to please rate my satisfaction, '1' being totally unsatisfied, etc. I punched '1' repeatedly. I hope they got the message.

(I've spared you all the rant about mail delivery here at my current address because, well, I'm exhausted and that just deteriorated even more over time.) One positive change is that my current apartment complex is great. The folks in the office answer the phone and take care of service calls in a reasonable manner. (Oh, why do I feel I've just jinxed that?)

2004 (updated once in 2009--another move)

When was the last time that you called the cable company for service? How many calls did you make before you received service? How many customer service or customer care representatives did you speak with in your attempts to obtain service? Once you got the service technician to your home, how many times did another service tech have to come back before the problem was resolved? Perhaps your story sounds like mine.

In preparation for a move, just fourteen miles from one residence to the next, my roommate and I arranged for our wireless internet account to be transferred and for a service technician to come and establish the wireless system at the new address. This was accomplished with one phone call. Ah, but don’t be tricked into a false sense of security. We were given the usual two-hour window of time for the service tech to arrive—in this case, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on a Thursday. One of us had to be there during that time, so my roommate sat on the floor in an as yet unfurnished apartment and waited.

When 12:30 became 1:15, she called the company. After going through the phone system, hearing all of the options, then pushing 1, 3, 2, 4, she was then placed on hold and told by a computer that, “the last call was answered in less than six minutes.” (I never find this to be particularly helpful information. I don’t really care how long the last customer waited. I want to know how long I’m going to have to wait.) Oh, and have you noticed that there is no option on this recorded system to allow you to press “0” and connect directly to an actual person?

After waiting the six-plus minutes, she was told that they had her service call scheduled between 12:30 and 2:30. At this point, it is always your word against theirs and—since they are the mega-corporation and don’t have to care—you lose.

I join her in the wait at 4:00 p.m. and another call was placed, the same frustrating, personless system navigated, and, once a person was reached, a supervisor was requested. Ah, but they are not available to customers who are calling with complaints—usually because (as we are told) they are busy with other customers! Perhaps it was our error in not asking how the other customers were able to access the supervisor.

At 6:15 p.m., we were now told that a service technician would be there shortly. When asked what that meant, the customer service representative simply said, “as soon as he finishes the job he is on now.” It was stated with such clarity and sense of logic, one wanted to welcome that as an acceptable answer.

At 7:05, the service technician arrives. He now has to face two very tired, very frustrated and very angry women. (He obviously drew the short straw that morning and knew that he would be assigned the, “We’ve been waiting all day and are sick and tired of your company and would choose another provider—if we could find one. Unfortunately, your company has a monopoly and we are, therefore, entirely at your mercy—now install the damned system,” customer. And this poor guy has done nothing except fall behind because someone overscheduled his workload that day.

The man has a daunting task—install a wireless home network system for one desktop and two laptop computers—one of which already has a wireless card installed. As he sets up the router and listens to our ranting about their service—or lack thereof—he explains what happened to our order. It was, apparently, dispatched to an employee number that does not even exist in their system. Oh, okay—HELLO-O! They’re a COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY!!! He crawls around on the floor in three different rooms for the next hour (remember, no furniture yet), then proudly announces, “There you go. All set. Sign here” (we’ll send you the bill).

We naively allow him to leave, assuming that, when we move in two days later, we will have instant internet access. Ah, but we know what happens when one assumes—don’t we? Hence, the move-in is completed and we settle for the evening to rest our weary bones and check our e-mail. One laptop (not mine) fires up and accesses the internet and email account. My laptop fires up and…and…and a message informs me that no account has been established. Okay, don’t panic—I still have the desktop. I turn on the desktop and wait while it goes through its boot-up and virus scanning activities. I come back and click on the blue “e”. I get a response. I am told, by someone or something out in the vast wireless universe, that my computer does not recognize the USB device—the one the cable guy attached so that I could access the internet.

Well, he did leave all of this stuff with me, including the software for the device. Perhaps it simply needs to be uninstalled and reinstalled—I know enough to do that much. As I am reinstalling the software for the USB device that is designed to pick up the signal that is supposedly just floating around my apartment, waiting for something to grab it, I see a message—WARNING! The device you are installing may not be compatible with your operating system. If you continue, it could cause serious and permanent damage to your computer! WHAT???

At this point, however, I have only one goal—to get my email. I ignore this, trusting that the service tech saw the same message the first time and he ignored it and my computer didn’t blow up. I restart the computer and—voila—I can access the internet and check email—at least for a minute. I am in the middle of responding to an email message when I see the little box appear in the lower right hand corner and the little green screen turn red (and we all know what red means—stop): USB device not recognized and you have no internet connection.

I learn, over the next few days, that if I unplug and reattach that device, I can re-establish a connection—at least long enough to check email. After a few days, this gets old and I decide to call the company to send someone out. Here we go again.

Ring, ring, ring, please hold, blah, blah, blah, press 1, blah, blah, blah, press 3—no I wanted 4. Oh, crap, now I have to start all over. Ring, ring, ring, please hold, blah, blah, blah, press 1, blah, blah, blah, press 4, blah, blah, blah, press 3—your call is important to us (Oh, really?); wait time on the last call was less than six minutes (Where have I heard that before?).

It is now Thursday morning. I am told that a service tech can come on Tuesday. I find this to be unacceptable, since the installation was obviously faulty in the first place. However, I forget that I am dealing with a mega-monopoly that doesn’t have to care what I think. I am offered two options: (1) place a service request for Tuesday between 10:30 and 12:30 (which I already know means between 10:30 and whenever), or (2) have an internet service supervisor call me the next day. Ah, a supervisor. That’s sounds good, so I choose what’s behind door number two.

I get up on Friday morning with a better attitude—I’m going to get to speak with the supervisor. (Okay, so they got me—again.) After waiting all morning with no call, I call in after lunch, only to be told that all of the supervisors are out at a training. Well, I can hardly object to that—it does seem that some training is in order. But I should not be too discouraged—they still have a few Tuesday appointments available. (Aren’t I the lucky one?) I’m even offered a choice—10:30 to 12:30 or 12:30 to 2:30. Not to be fooled twice, I choose the earliest time. That way, I figure the tech will get there before I have to get ready for bed.

The magical day arrives—Tuesday. I get up, put on my best jeans and comb my hair—wouldn’t want to scare the tech away with a bad case of bed head. Then I wait---and wait---and wait---and wait. 12:30 passes and 1:00 arrives. I call again—well, you know that drill. Yes, he’s running late—of course he is. He’ll be there by 2:30—of course he will. This time I have spoken with a customer service representative who actually listens and sounds concerned. She spells her name for me and gives me her number. I almost believe that she will help me. She is going to call me back to make sure that the problem is resolved.

While I’m waiting, I may as well at least attempt to review any current email—assuming my computer will recognize the USB device. It should—I’ve introduced them over and over for the past week. Well, it does. But, now, a new message appears—my username and password are not recognized. (Seems my system has developed either a rapidly progressive case of dementia or amnesia). I check the other “working” laptop to find that my friend’s username and password are no longer being recognized either. But, not to fear—the service tech is on his way.

A call comes from the tech at 5:45 p.m.—just to reassure me that he’s on his way—of course he is. After being given specific directions and told how to call to be buzzed into the complex, he goes to the wrong complex—(all together now)—of course he does. At last, at 6:30, the tech arrives. He is a young man in his early twenties who was, no doubt, diagnosed with ADHD when in grade school. He checks the USB device, reinstalls it, responds to my question of whether the device could be faulty with a shrug and, “could be,” then says, “There you go. All set.” He does manage to get the second laptop to sign online, between two personal calls (I assume they were personal—unless he always says, “I love you” to the dispatcher)—and a short break to play with my battery operated slot machine/ballpoint pen which, I was told, is “cool.”

He can’t do anything about the email accounts—of course he can’t—but he can give me a phone number to call—of course he can.

By this time, the work day long over, my friend returns and takes over, calling the number that was given to have the email accounts restored. They were still assigned to the old address where service was formerly received. (I guess you have to know to ask for them to be transferred along with your service. Duh?) But, let’s keep this in perspective—IT’S A COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY.

My friend is transferred through a few people and ends up talking with someone who sounds like they may be helpful. There is one minor problem—we are in Memphis and she was connected to San Antonio, Texas. (It’s a COMMUNICATIONS Company?)

While she is trying to get this problem resolved, I receive a call on my phone from the customer service rep who had promised to call me back. This I take as a very positive sign. I tell her that we are on the other line trying to get the problem resolved. She, once again, promises to call back before she goes home at 10:00 p.m.

In the meantime, my friend is transferred back to the office that will supposedly restore our email accounts. It is now 8:05 p.m. Yep, you guessed it—they close at 8:00. However, my faith is again restored when the customer service rep calls me back just shy of ten o’clock. I tell her what has happened, and she tells me that she will have a supervisor call me the next morning. I am suspicious of this because I have already asked for a supervisor and that is how I ended up speaking with her—not a supervisor. (I guess it was a very long training meeting.)

Thursday morning arrives. I jump up and turn on my desktop, eager to now go online and bid on that item I’ve been watching on Ebay. What the heck, I can’t read my email. Yep, you guessed it—USB device not recognized; no internet connection available.

Okay, I have now reached my limit. I turn off the computer. I turn off my cell phone. I get in my car and I drive. Tomorrow is another day and, unfortunately, the problem will still be there. (Remember that movie Groundhog Day?)

Friday, the end of the week, the day all of nine to five America looks forward to. Now it’s a matter of principle—I AM going to speak with a supervisor. I call, get a friendly customer service rep. This time I can understand him when he says his name and asks if he can help me (the others may have been friendly and/or helpful, but all answered the phone as if they were chewing ice chips, and yes, it’s a COMMUNICATIONS Company). I tell him that, no, he cannot help me and that I want to speak with a supervisor. I want to spare him the entire history lesson, but he presses on, “Can you tell me the nature of the problem?” Well, if I could do that, there wouldn’t be a problem, now, would there? Okay, buddy, you asked. I give him the entire history—my frustration level and my voice rising with each daily account. At the end, I tell him that a supervisor has one hour to get back to me or I am canceling the service and going elsewhere. (Of course, that’s a bluff. This is a mega-monopoly and there is nowhere else to go.)

I am truly in awe when a supervisor calls me back forty minutes later, apologizes and restores both email accounts while I am on the phone with him. I am convinced this man is the reincarnation of either Thomas Edison or one of the ancient gods. He then tells me that he will contact the dispatcher to have another tech come out and try to resolve the problem with the desktop computer. But, now, I’m onto them—I insist on a time within a one hour window. He calls back and tells me to expect the tech between 4:30 and 5:30. And so, I do. At 5:35, the tech calls—he is lost—say it with me—of course he is.

I give him directions, and he arrives within minutes. At this point, I feel sorry for the techs. I wonder how many totally frustrated, angry, hostile, nearly-homicidal customers they have to deal with in a day. One can only imagine. He replaces the USB device. Then he does something neither of the other two did—he encrypts all three computers, showing me that someone could hack in because there is another strong signal from a different network in the area. (My inclination is to go and knock on my neighbor’s door to find out about that network and sign up.)

He finishes, telling me that the problem should now be resolved. (Yeah, like I’m going to believe that one before I see it. Fool me once, fool me fifteen times…eventually, I catch on.) Then he writes down for me the direct number for service. I had to ask myself, if he’s so sure the problem is resolved, why is he giving me this number? However, I am delighted that he has shown me how to use my little laptop to check new email. I am hoping against hope that I will never have to call him again. Yeah, you guessed it—it didn’t work.

Over the weekend, I battle with the USB device to stay on line. I finally give up, using only my laptop. However, I am German and I am determined that they are going to fix this and make it work properly—again, a matter of principle. A lesser person may have given up by now. A person with a job and a real life would have done the same. Ah, but I am unemployed at the time—I can spend hours, days, even weeks making them come back until they do their job properly. I even get online—on my friend’s computer—and I look up the corporate headquarters. I locate a phone number and call. The phone rings twenty-seven times (I counted) and no one answers—no answering machine—no person. Yes, it’s the corporate headquarters for a COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY!

Trusting that the direct number the tech gave me will make a difference, I call them again. A service rep takes my number and tells me that she will check to see where a tech is and will call me back. I failed to have her specify what day that would be (or what century). When I call again—the next day—I tell her that I will hold while she finds out that information. (Hey, they’re a communications company. I’m sure they have more than one phone line.) She assures me that a tech will be there later that day. No, he won’t. Because I can’t be there later that day. The tech does call me and arrange a time for the next day. He does arrive and brings with him a new, different device. (Remember, I have questioned each time if the device could be incompatible with my computer’s system—JUST AS THE MESSAGE ON THE COMPUTER SAYS EACH TIME THEY INSTALL IT AGAIN).

He fails to see my attempt at humor when I ask him when I should expect to receive my invitation to the company picnic. After all, in the past two weeks, I’ve spoken with everyone in the company—some more than once (well, except for the folks at corporate) We’ve formed a bond. I think I may have even signed up for life insurance.

It is now forty-eight hours later and the new device seems to have resolved the problem. One down—two more to go.

The Post Office—need I say more? The Post Office provides us with their forms to fill out in advance of a move, indicating the old address and the new address and the forwarding start date. Since I am a person who expects people to do their job, I tend to take my part seriously. I got the Post Office form for a change of address, diligently completed it and returned it to the Post Office well in advance of my move date. I moved, as most folks do, at the first of the month. Now, I understand that there is a reasonable amount of turnaround time for mail to get shifted. Despite how it may sound, I am generally a reasonable person—ask anyone (except the cable/internet company).

A week after my move, I received a card from the Post Office, asking me to review and verify the change of address. Not only was my last name misspelled, the new address was incorrect. Being a person who likes rules and steps, I called the number listed on the verification form, as directed, to report the error. After going through their system of if you want this department, press “1”, etc., I was finally connected to a person—who then proceeded to tell me that I have to call the Post Office that served my former address. Again, with an attitude of compliance based upon the belief that we could get this worked out, I called. I was told that the carrier would call me the next day—Friday. I chose to believe this.

The call came on Saturday afternoon as I was standing in the middle of a craft store trying to choose between plain wheat or silk flowers for an arrangement. The mail carrier was courteous and tried to be helpful. When the conversation got to the point where I was told that it would probably be best for me to just fill out another change of address form, I decided to take a more—shall we say—active stance: I informed the carrier that I would come to the Post Office on Monday morning to, “get this matter straightened out.” The carrier could confirm for me that she had not delivered any of my mail to the former address, that the person living at the address that had been wrongly listed for me had verified that my mail had been delivered there (yes, I had the same question—why didn’t someone pick it up and deliver it to ME?), and that she didn’t know now where my mail could be. (Could it be where you left it?)

Monday morning-the Post Office: The clerk was appropriately apologetic and understanding. He disappeared from the window for several minutes, supposedly to find the carrier and find out about my mail. He returned to tell me that the carrier verified that she had not left my mail at the former address (this was a news flash). I then asked if he could please tell me where my mail was. He did not know, but—you guessed it—had a form that I could fill out to correct the forwarding address—you know, the one the POST OFFICE messed up to start with.

Okay, my mail is being held hostage in some void known only to a select few in the Postal Service. They, like the cable company, have me by the short ones. I fill out the form. Three days later—still no forwarded mail. I am in the final preparations for giving the term “going Postal” an entirely new meaning. They have another forty-eight hours.

But—the adventure is not over yet. In our frustration with the cable company, we decided to use them for internet services only (we couldn’t find another high speed service provider) and to have Direct TV installed. To our surprise—no, amazement—we called one day and the installer was there the next morning. We had a three-room system installed. My TV/VCR had a fuzzy picture and would not record clearly. After jiggling cables and disconnecting the VCR altogether, I gave in and called the service number. This was a Monday. I was told that a repairman could come on Wednesday between 8 a.m. and noon. I replied that that was perfect—I had a washer repairmen scheduled on the same day and time. (That’s a whole other story that I’ll get to later.)

Well, let’s get to that one now. It seems the washer repairman showed up first—at 11 a.m. The washer had worked fine before the move, but now shook violently when it went into a spin. I was starting to have the same reaction myself. I sympathized with the washer. The movers were very careful with everything—the one thing that’s gone well, so far—so we assumed the washer simply needed to be leveled. (I admit that, at this point, I’m ready to level something—or someone.) We had tried everything to level it, but without success. The repairman proceeds to pull, push, disassemble, adjust and reassemble for the next twenty minutes. He then says he will be right back and disappears—for a very long time. I look outside to see that he is pacing in the breezeway and talking on the phone—no doubt having called for backup. He comes back inside and resumes his pulling, pushing, adjusting, then announces that this is as good as it will get—“the floor’s not even; it’s wood and it gives. At least it’s not knocking.” (Yeah, thank heaven for that.)

Now, the sad thing about this is that I accept it. Oh, okay, I’ll just wash my things one at a time so it doesn’t shake itself into the next room. Thanks for coming. Here’s your check.

But, wait, where’s the Direct TV guy? It’s now well past noon. So, I call. A young woman with gum in her mouth (I hope) and an allergy sniffle (I hope, again) says, “Hello.”

I ask, “Is this Direct TV?” to which she replies, “Yes.” I wait for the, “Can I help you?” After a minute, I say, “So, here’s how you can help me.” I tell her of my call for service two days earlier and ask what happened to my service request. She puts me on hold, then proceeds to tell me that my appointment is for tomorrow morning. I tell her that, no, it is not and here’s how I know that. I recount my conversation of two days earlier, reminding her that I was happy to schedule it at the same time as the washer repairman—on Wednesday. She says, well, we have you down for tomorrow.

Here’s where I start to give new meaning to “going Postal.” I insist that she find someone who will correct their mistake and get a service man out to my residence TODAY. She puts me on hold, then a man picks up, “Hello.” I tell him that I am on hold waiting to find out about my service call, to which he says, “Yes?” Okay, I don’t know who I am talking with or why, but I recount the problem. He puts me on hold, then another woman picks up, “Hello.” I tell her that I am on hold and waiting to find out about my service call, to which she says, “Yes?” I tell her my story, she puts me on hold. Finally, she comes back on the line and says that the service man will be there before two. It is now one o’clock.

I naively accept this promise and go to watch my favorite soap opera. Two o’clock becomes two thirty, then three o’clock. I call again. I am offered an apology and told that a supervisor will call me back (Yeah, right. Where have I heard that before—oh, yeah, the cable company). As four thirty approaches and my blood pressure now reaches dangerously high levels, I dial the phone. I angrily ask chewing gum girl who answers what is going on. She asks me to hold. A man picks up the phone, “Hello.” It’s the same guy. I unleash my mounting frustration on him and demand to know if or when a service rep is coming. He curtly says, “Well, ma’am, I don’t even know who I am talking to.”

That’s it! “No, and neither do I. I was on hold while someone checked on my service call. You pick up the phone and simply say ‘hello’ without introducing yourself or telling me what your role is in all of this. So, let me introduce myself.” I proceed to tell him my name, ask his name, then ask him if Direct TV gets their staff training from the cable company. He is not amused. GOOD! Neither am I.

He puts me on hold—once again—but, when he comes back, he apologizes profusely and assures me that the service man will be there within the hour. The service rep comes and I have to remind myself that none of this is actually his fault. He switches the Direct TV box and the VCR to channel 4. The problem is resolved. Thank you. Well, it was for the moment anyway.

I could go on—believe me, there’s more. If you’ve ever moved into an apartment complex and been told, “just call us if you find anything that needs to be taken care of and we’ll get right on it,” then you know there is more. Ah, yes, I can see that you’ve been there, done that.

Now, all of the people to whom I spoke, at whom I yelled, with whom I pleaded and who cautiously came to my door to provide service (excuse the term) are probably very nice people. I know they are just out there busting their humps to make a living like everyone else. So, whose fault is it? Who is doing the training? Where does the problem begin? I’m serious—do you know?
The previous essay was written following my move four years ago. But I just recently moved again. You guessed it—the cable company screwed up, the Post Office screwed up… At least the appliances survived.

Okay, so here’s the point—What has happened to taking pride in the work that we do? In actually providing customer service, not just using the promise as a lure to bait the innocent and unsuspecting? What about caring if the customer is satisfied? Or believing that the customer has a right to get their money’s worth? What about knowing the importance of good customer relations?

Some of you may remember the famous scene from the movie Network where the character played by Peter Finch shouts, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

I agree. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it, but I am mad as hell and—if I have to morph into a raving lunatic to demand the quality of goods and services that I’m paying for—I am not going to take it anymore.

Note: No customer services representatives, service technicians, or washer repairmen were injured in the making of this essay--and that's a miracle. To those customer service reps and techs and repairmen who take their jobs seriously and make efforts to resolve customers problems in an efficient manner (and you know who you are)--I apologize and bow to you.

Linda (who writes fiction, but couldn't make this stuff up)

Friday, July 4, 2014

On Independence Day and Hurricanes.

Today is Independence Day. I've read a lot of Facebook posts and given thought to what that means. I know what it means historically and for our country. So I gave thought to what it means to me--in my life. When did I declare my Independence?

Our personal Declaration of Independence is different, I think, for everyone, probably influenced by family and life circumstance and one's own inner strength. I can look back to my childhood and see ways I took little runs at declaring my independence. And of course, in my teens, ways I rebelled in an effort to claim my individuality.

But, to be honest, my true Independence Day came somewhere around the time I turned fifty. What took me so long? I like to think that during all those years, I was just gathering the tools I needed to own my life, to become me. We often think of Independence as becoming free 'from' something. I like to think of it as becoming free 'for' something. For me, finally declaring my Independence meant taking ownership of my choices, my desires, my dreams and letting go of the fears, doubts, and false beliefs I'd held that stopped me in my tracks.

I'd always been influenced by the concern over what others thought of me or how they saw me and this prohibited me often from voicing my own opinion. Once I let that go, I had a voice. Not everyone agrees with my opinions, and that's okay. But they're mine. 

I'd long wanted to write. But I lacked the self-confidence and the encouragement I thought I needed from others to do so with any belief in my ability. When I declared my independence, I was free to pursue that dream without worry about failing and without needing anyone's stamp of approval or consent. I know this may be sounding a bit like the old, "Free to Be, You and Me". But there is that moment in each of our lives when we turn a corner, step across a divide, and own who we are.

I'm very grateful today for this country--as conflicted and screwed up as it sometimes seems. This country and those who fought to make it free allow me the right to make the choices and decisions I make and to even voice these thoughts out loud and here in print. Not every woman in every country would be able to do so.

I'm grateful, too, for that moment of that day in my life when something shifted ever so slightly in me and freed me to claim who I am. Kind of the like chaos theory proposing that the slightest change like the flutter of a butterfly's wings can later produce major change bearing the force of hurricane winds. 

So here I am, baby, in the midst of the hurricane--and loving every minute of it. Sitting in my pjs at three in the afternoon on Independence Day and writing yet another book. And not giving a damn what anyone would think of that. Oddly enough, the title is Flight of Fancie. And it's about--you guessed it--a young woman's claim to her own independence.

I hope today you all celebrate both the Independence we hold as Americans and your own personal independence. Be yourself! There's not another one out there like you.