Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Customer Service as a Cure to Low Blood Pressure

The obvious problem with my title is that most of us – if we have issues with blood pressure at all – suffer from high blood pressure, which turns this prescription on its head.

I just had an interaction with my cable company’s customer service department, and my heart is pounding so hard that it feels like it’s going to self-eject via my throat. I’ve had such traumatizing experiences with various incarnations of customer service that it’s almost to the point where hearing the words, “How may I help you today?” is like applying electrodes to my extremities. I break out in a cold sweat and my eyeballs start to twitch.

These days, it takes a really horrendous situation for me to call a customer service number. Merely bad situations are so much easier to tolerate than the gauntlet of interventions most customer service interfaces put one through.

First of all, there are the menus, the seemingly endless repetition of: “Please choose among the following options, so that we may properly route your call.” How often are you confronted with the situation in which none of the options presented conform to your particular need? Which leaves you to guess. But then, there is the next menu, which presents another body of choices. Have you encountered the situation in which your delay in choosing am option – caused by mind numbness setting in – leads to the cheery message: “Speak to you next time!” followed by the dial tone?

If you manage to navigate the menus, there is the waiting, just to get through to a live human being, most often the wrong one, who then connects you to a department which is closed for the day. If however, you finally manage to connect to a person in the right department, who potentially can actually help you, the real gauntlet begins.

“May I have your client service number please? And your date of birth? Your home room teacher when you were in junior high school? The home room teacher’s PIN number, blood type, and the name of her childhood imaginary friend?” And it goes on like that. If the heavens are aligned, and you make it through this interrogation, maybe you get to discuss your problem.

And where it comes to phones, televisions or the internet, it helps if you have a couple of degrees, in engineering and advanced physics. Because you’re asked for not only the model number of whatever contraption is causing difficulty, but also for detailed descriptions of every symptom your gadget has ever produced. And that’s before the battery of elaborate dissections and tests you are then instructed to perform. Often, I give up about an hour and a half into this ordeal, just before the point at which I’m ready to hurl the device through the nearest window. If somehow, I make it through to the end, I feel I’ve actually earned a degree. But as often as not, my gadget still isn’t functioning.

The worst part of all this is that I can’t shake the suspicion that it’s all intentional. The first clue corroborating this hypothesis is how extremely difficult it is to even find a customer service number these days. I swear that these companies are so intent on forcing you to solve your problem via the on-line, self-help tools, that they bury all clues as to how you can actually find someone responsible to speak to. And the constant redirection, from department to department, with the need to repeat problem and symptom, and steps already taken to solve the problem, with each new person spoken to…well, it all seems clearly designed to wear one down. And sadly – as evidenced by all the electronics in my home that no longer work – this strategy works all too well!