street art in Los Angeles by Jennifer Korsen
Once around 2006, during an exasperating phone call with my cell provider’s customer service department, I did my best to have genuine communication with the woman on the other end of the line. It’s embarrassing to think there may be a recording of that call somewhere.
After ninety minutes going round and round trying to work out some such technical problem of which I have no memory, I broke down. The worst part is, I tried to take her with me. Perhaps it was low blood sugar or PMS shaken with periodic bouts of hold music. Or maybe it was the robot that interrupts the musak at irregular intervals assuring that someone will be with you momentarily. Near the end of the call, I actually cried. Sobbed. “Just tell me you understand. Please.” She held the company line with the finesse of a droid.
I begged her to say something off-script.
She would not.
I’ve begun thinking that the customer service training manuals detailing permitted responses are written by psychologists hired by pharmaceutical companies. It’s all about getting us to buy more Xanax. Aldous knew.
There’s a wonderful story by Michael Kardos called “Animals” that appeared in the literary journal Crazyhorse – Number 83 last year which has an interesting take on customer service departments. He covers the topic beautifully; so much so, that it’s not on my list of ideas for my own stories.
But I will share this: today, having to contact my cable/internet/phone company, I utilized the Live Chat feature. Thankfully, the transcript below doesn’t have an ounce of the drama of that 2006 call. I’ve finally absorbed the fact that people working for the major communication companies can’t afford to risk their jobs by engaging in communication of any depth with the customers. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally try to slip in extra doses of humaneness towards them.
info: at 8:41:15 Thank you for contacting [cable company]. A representative will be with you shortly.
info: at 8:41:15 You are now chatting with Mike.
Mike: at 8:41:42 Hello!
You: at 8:41:48 Hi Mike. Did you see my question or do I need to type it again?
Mike: at 8:41:50 Good Morinng [sic]!
You: at 8:42:10 Hi Mike. Did you see my question or do I need to type it again?
Mike: at 8:42:11 I will read the question.
You: at 8:42:18 Thank you.
Mike: at 8:43:00 Yes
Mike: at 8:43:09 One moment please.
You: at 8:47:42 Thank you. I will continue waiting.
Mike: at 8:48:26 Thank you for waiting.
Mike: at 8:48:59 The Card on the account is Suspended.
You: at 8:51:04 That’s odd. I’ve been traveling and using that card. Did [cable company] try to contact me in July to tell me that the auto-pay did not go through?
Mike: at 8:52:04 I understand your situation. I will request you to contact Bank as soon as possible.
Mike: at 8:52:36 Because we are not authorized to make any changes to card.
You: at 8:52:48 I am contacting them now. There is no sign from my bank that any holds are on the card. I will make sure they put the payment through now; however, are you able to make sure this does not reflect poorly on my [cable company] account? Clearly, I was unaware until I got the call today that this auto-pay did not go through.
Mike: at 8:53:34 Thank you for understanding.
Mike: at 8:54:00 I will make notes about the issue, please be rest assured.
You: at 8:54:43 Thank you. What will the notes indicate? My bank is showing no holds on the account, nor have they called me. I understand it is up to me now to make sure the payment goes through, but [cable company] seems to have failed to communicate this sooner.
Mike: at 8:56:33 That you will not get any late fees.
You: at 8:57:22 Shouldn’t the record also reflect that the error was not mine?
You: at 8:59:10 Shouldn’t the record also reflect that the error was not mine?
Mike: at 9:01:20 Yes, I have made the necessary notes on account.
You: at 9:02:47 Thank you, Mike, I’m on a simul chat with my bank. Would you mind keeping this chat active until I resolve this with them?
You: at 9:03:22 Mike, my bank says no attempt to charge the card was made.
Mike: at 9:03:38 Sure, I am here with you.
You: at 9:03:58 Mike, my bank says no attempt to charge the card was made.
You: at 9:04:53 Did you receive that?
Mike: at 9:06:52 Thank you for waiting. I’ll be with you in just a moment.
Mike: at 9:08:07 Please inform them that the card is Suspended.
You: at 9:09:24 That is incorrect. I have used it multiple times in the month of August.
You: at 9:09:54 Have you tried to run the payment again? If not, will you please do that.
Mike: at 9:10:28 There is another option as well. We will register again and make one time payment now. This is resolving the issue.
You: at 9:11:27 I do not want a one time payment. I want my auto payment reinstalled. I’m a long time customer trying to continue to give [cable company] money on a regular basis. What is the problem?
Mike: at 9:11:54 I apologize, but I need to escalate your issue for additional research.
Mike: at 9:11:57 I will now transfer this chat to our next level support, who will open a ticket for you and get it the issue resolved.
You: at 9:12:04 Good, thank you.
Mike: at 9:14:03 I’ll be right with you.
Mike: at 9:16:03 I’m sorry for the delay. I’ll be right with you.
You: at 9:16:10 Thank you.
Mike: at 9:18:09 Thank you for waiting. I’ll be with you in just a moment.
Mike: at 9:20:09 I’m sorry for the delay. I’ll be right with you.
You: at 9:20:23 Thanks.
Mike: at 9:22:22 I’ll be right with you.
Mike: at 9:24:22 Thank you for waiting. I’ll be with you in just a moment.
You: at 9:24:45 I will continue waiting.
info: at 9:25:18 You are now chatting with Timothy.
Timothy: at 9:26:44 I’ll be right with you.
Timothy: at 9:27:22 Hello, my name is Tim with Tier 3 support. Thank you for taking the additional time for us to address your inquiry. Please allow me a moment to review the details of the inquiry you and I will be addressing.
You: at 9:28:13 Thank you.
Timothy: at 9:29:47 I understand that there was a problem with your auto payment, is that right?
You: at 9:30:24 Yes. But I have checked with my bank and there have been no holds on the account. My bank shows no sign that an auto-pay was ever attempted.
Timothy: at 9:32:21 I’m sorry for the inconvenience, there was a problem with our system that suspended the auto-pay. From what I’ve been told, that problem has been corrected and things will go back to normal by your next bill. However, you will need to make a one time payment for this cycle (if you haven’t already).
You: at 9:33:38 Thanks. So the auto-pay will be reinstalled after I make this payment?
Timothy: at 9:34:35 that is correct.
You: at 9:37:14 May I ask you to lodge a complaint on my behalf? It’s just that now my household budget is having to accommodate over $400 in one month rather than $200. And I don’t see that I was ever notified back in July when the auto-pay was to have taken place, or else I could have issued the payment then in a more timely fashion. Instead, I received the call today from the computer and followed up only have Tier One support tell me my card was suspended when there was nothing wrong with my card at all. It’s all rather disconcerting. I have now spent an hour dealing with this. It’s bad business on [cable company]’s part.
Timothy: at 9:39:38 I can definitely send that up to my superiors for you.
Timothy: at 9:40:17 was there anything else I can help you with?
You: at 9:40:35 Thank you. And please add that they are not “superior” to you or anyone else. I’m issuing the payment now.
Timothy: at 9:41:05 ok. thank you. Have a great day.