R.I.P. Customer Service

RIP Customer Service

At the point when I had decided that I was going to write a piece on the state of customer service — oh, wait, I’m sorry, there is no customer service anymore — at the time when I determined that I was going to write on the state of what passes for customer service — I decided to check back on my last two letters to United Parcel Service just to make sure that I had my facts straight and to reassure myself that I’m not just some whiny bitch. When I did that — to my surprise and horrified delight — I discovered another equally outraged letter that I had written six years ago to United Parcel Service, aka UPS.

Like most artists and writers and numerous students of advanced degrees, I spent many years in various jobs, all of which, bottom line, were in one way or another, for all intents and purposes, Customer Service. Any person whose job is directly assisting the public — one-on-one — is in customer service… at least they are in my book.

My first job as an official CSR was for a company that manufactured “medical devices.” I had no idea at the time that these “devices” even existed; I also had no idea how to dress for a proper ‘business’ interview. I dressed as if for a garden party, replete with flower-bedecked hat. It wasn’t until months later that I realized that my interviewer had been mocking me; I’d actually thought she liked the hat. My prior jobs had included selling ladies’ shoes in a boutique in the sixties, pretending to sell furniture in a store that was a front for the mob in the seventies, and being a Playboy Bunny. I knew absolutely nothing about corporate level business. But I’m good with people, as they say, and that was the only thing in my favor when I went for my interview as a CSR.

I was good at what I did. So good that I was made manager after only a couple of months on the job, over the other CSRs who’d been in place for some time. The ‘customers’ we dealt with were employed by the same company that we worked for; they were in sales and we were in the job of making sure that these salespeople had what they needed in order to be effective and profit-generating. In the eyes of the company, which sold and rented out the various kinds of durable medical devices that they manufactured, most of which were designed to promote healing after joint surgeries, their salespeople were my customers and my job was to make sure that they had what they needed to do their job.

Ideally, customer service ensures that the customers have what they need or, sometimes, simply what they want. The idea is to keep the customer happy and coming back. My last customer service position — at a printing company — was back in the nineties when actual customer service existed. It no longer does.

Oh, let me correct that, if the product you have purchased is a high-end product, a luxury item that probably cost way more than it needed to, in that specific instance, actual customer service may exist… and if it does that’s one of the reasons you paid as much for it as you did.

Corporations, as you are now reminded on a regular basis, care far more about their bottom line than they do about their customers, or, for that matter, people in general; their bottom line is to make far more money than anyone needs to live on. Lucky for them, technology allows them to have something they call customer service taken care of by technology instead of by human beings which means less for them to spend and more to pocket.

They think they’re getting away clean with that puny effort.

What they are actually doing is pissing people off. With my background in actual customer service, they particularly piss me off. When I want help with something, what I don’t want is an automated human-ish voice asking me generic questions that often have literally nothing to do with what it is that I want to accomplish. What I really don’t want is getting to the end of the made-up list that they thought would “cover everything” only to be hung up on because the thing I want — my problem — the thing I want assistance with — isn’t on their list.

I imagine that corporate thinking is that the customer will then go to their website online and attempt to address the issue from there. By then, however, the customer has already been alienated. The customer is angry. The customer is thinking that they will never buy that product or use that service again if they can possibly help it. An actual person is actually capable of soothing a disgruntled customer; technology doesn’t do that. It does just the opposite. And when the customers discover that the only thing available to them online is an automated chat-bot, things get exponentially worse all around.

The people of the world today are under a great deal of stress already, the only thing that computerized so-called customer service does is to aggravate that stress and, since it’s more the rule than the exception, it’s almost everywhere you turn. When products don’t function as they should or when services that were supposed to have been rendered are not rendered or have gone faulty, the last straw for the person experiencing that disappointment is to be funneled into a technologized function that is pummeling said person with questions and options that in no way pertain to the reason for their attempting to seek help.

People want to talk to a person. People want human contact. People want to be assured that their problem is being taken care of and there is no technology that can do that, no matter what it “says.” People also want to be validated; they want to know that their problems have been recognized by another human being; they may even want a little sympathy… and why not?

We are already paying inflated prices for the goods that we buy. The average salary of any executive in a multi-billion dollar company should be some clue to that. These people do not need more money. Chances are great that when those people need help, they get human help. We all deserve human help. We all deserve the sense or feeling that someone — some other person — actually cares about our problem, that they care about the thing that we care so much about and are trying to remedy. That’s compassionate human behavior… or at least its pretending to be. It might just be good acting. That’s OK. Sometimes good performance really is a performance. Sometimes it’s part of the job… especially when the person calling in with an issue is a jerk. It’s still the human contact that matters and felt concern coming from another.

What I want from a CSR is basically assurance that my problem matters to them and that they will do everything they can to help me get it fixed. That’s how I performed when I was a CSR. All I was doing was ensuring deliveries of durable medical equipment for salespeople but their sales were their livelihood, their income on the line. I knew that and I performed like I knew that; I performed as if it was my life and my income on the line. But anyone calling in for assistance with a problem they are having with a product they have purchased, a service they have paid for, or an experience of some sort that has gone wrong, no matter how large or small their investment, that person deserves to have their feelings recognized and, ideally, their hopes lifted if only to reassure them that help may be possible.

Automation just can’t do that.

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Astrology-Informed Artist; Author of self-help books on healing with Ozark Mt. Publishers; survivor

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V Pendragon

V Pendragon

Astrology-Informed Artist; Author of self-help books on healing with Ozark Mt. Publishers; survivor

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