Barb Checket-Hanks

I was on the phone with my friend Dean today. He’s a refrigeration contractor, and I always enjoy listening to his observations on business and life in general. It usually boils down to this: “It’s a goat rodeo.” I love trying to imagine what one of those would look like.

This time, Dean’s gripe was the problem of trying to find someone on the phone who can actually answer your questions. Dean’s question to a particular manufacturer’s customer service had to do with a part on a refrigeration component. This wasn’t your typical customer service call either, routed to a heavily accented, sleep-deprived operator thousands of miles away. Dean knows better than to do that. He called the factory.

In spite of his discriminating calling practices, Dean said he still couldn’t find anyone on the phone who even knew that a particular part was now part of the refrigeration component - at the factory where, presumably, the thing is pieced together from parts made around the world.

“Nobody even knew that part was on there now, they couldn’t tell me a thing,” said Dean. “I don’t know. I can never seem to get anyone on the phone who knows anything I want to find out.” To make matters more complicated, it was a component for somebody else’s job, bought on Dean’s account, which now has to be credited. I have a feeling that my friend Dean is going to be spending a lot of time on the phone in the coming weeks.

FIRST CONTACT

I can sympathize. I think most people can these days. Is the problem that people are working off scripts? I didn’t even ask Dean how long it took him to get connected to an actual human being. I don’t want to come off sounding like Andy Rooney - it’s just assumed that your first layers of contact will be handled by automated services.

Sometimes computerized answering services are convenient, like when you are dealing with a power outage. The computer can lie to you just as easily as a human could - probably more easily because the computer doesn’t have to deal with feelings of guilt.

But you would hope that somewhere behind all the lies and computerized messages, actual live people know the facts about their product, whatever that is.

Sometimes, through sheer luck, you meet a customer service person on the phone whose voice and words fill you with feelings of hope and security. I recently called a credit card company to ask them to stop sending me applications. I have a credit card and I don’t want any more. I dreaded making that call; it never seems to do any good, and I don’t want the person I wind up on the phone with asking me why I don’t want their stinking credit card.

I called a customer service number, knowing that I already had two strikes against me: I’m not a customer, and I don’t want to be a customer. Logic would seem to dictate that they don’t actually owe me any service. The phone prompt kept asking for my card number, and since I don’t have one, I kept punching in “0.” Eventually I was transferred to (gasp) a human. Her voice and manner, and the way she seemed to be looking for a way to honor my request, gave me hope.

I’m not sure, but I think my request to be removed from their mailing list may have worked. The nice human said it would take about 30 days to work through the system, so any applications currently in the mail might still come to me, but after that, I should be off the list … until somebody else sells them my name.

The goat rodeo continues.

Publication date: 10/15/2007