The Politically Incorrect Mom


Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Assassination of Customer Service

Imagine two separate scenarios.

In the first, you visit the local grocery store “Customer Service” counter to inquire about sending money to someone via Western Union. The sign behind the store clerk’s head says, “Two Easy Ways To Send Money – 1. By using our automated telephone service to your right and, 2. By manually completing a form and handing it to the store clerk”. You ask the store clerk how long it will take to use the automated telephone service, after all, you’re on your lunch break and don’t have much time. She responds by saying, “uhhhh….I don’t know”. So, you pick up the Western Union telephone and push the button that reads, “Send Money”. You hear a ringing sound and then a voice comes on the line that says, “Your wait time is……23 minutes”. You decide to hang up the telephone and go back to the service counter. When you tell the clerk that you wish to use the manual method to send the money, she responds by saying, “We’re just using the telephone [way] now”. To which you respond, “I don’t have time to wait 23 minutes, the sign says I can do it manually. Is there someone here who knows how to do it the other way?” The clerk responds, “ummm…I don’t know…just use the telephone [way]”. You begin to feel the blood rush to your cheeks. You’ve got about 10 minutes to get this off your “to-do list” and this person seems to be the least likely candidate to have been placed at the Customer Service counter. You take a deep breath, after all, this girl looks like she’s about 12 and has probably never been trained properly, right? You say, “When I attempted to send money using the telephone, a recording came on to tell me that there was a wait time of 23 minutes. Is there someone here I can speak with who knows a little bit more about this?” to which she responds, “HELLO!!!! NOT MY FAULT!” and turns away from you to chat with the other 12 year-old store clerk.

The second scenario goes like this…

You take your child to the dentist office. This dentist happens to be the most accommodating dentist in town. He has two different locations and is the only one within a 30-mile radius who actually sees patients on Saturdays a couple times each month and also offers a few days of evening hours each week. While standing in line to schedule your child’s next appointment, you overhear the person in front of you giving the scheduling person her “criteria” for scheduling her next appointment. The conversation goes like this…

“I can only come in on Tuesdays. It has to be after 5:00 PM, it’s the only time I’m available”.

The scheduler responds very sweetly, “I’m sorry, we’re not in this office after 5:00 on Tuesdays, maybe I can look at another day for an appointment at that time”.

“No” responds the woman, “I’m only available on Tuesdays”.

“Well, I see an appointment here on a Saturday morning, will that suit your schedule?”

“NO! I said I am only available on Tuesdays!” the woman snorts.

“Are you able to visit our southern office? The doctor is in that office on Tuesday afternoons, I can probably get you in after 5:00 at that location and it’s only 8 miles from here”.

“I don’t think you heard me! I SAID I’m only available on Tuesday afternoons….AFTER 5:00 and I am ONLY COMING TO THIS OFFICE! I don’t understand why I can’t get an appointment time that suits my schedule. You always want me to take Johnny out of school for his appointments or ask me to schedule during his football practice time. Johnny can ABSOLUTELY NOT MISS SCHOOL OR FOOTBALL! Every time I come here I get the runaround – you people are so unaccommodating!”

The scheduling person signs and says, “There is one Tuesday, six weeks from now when our associate doctor will be in this office. I would have to overbook the schedule and you may have to wait a while for your appointment, but I’ll put you in on that date if you don’t mind waiting”.

“Fine!…, wait……we’ll be in Aspen that week. It’s not going to work. Find me another day”.

In the first scenario, the customer service received is absolutely unacceptable. The sort of thing you come to expect from the convenience store clerk or the token guy at the subway. The sort of maddening exercise that is turning us all into online shoppers and people who would rather deal with an automated bill paying service to pay the electric bill than to have to speak to a representative at the electric company. I’ve long been saying that customer service is almost non-existent these days. People just don’t know how to act when they are in a service related business anymore. Forget about going out of your way to make me feel at ease or as though I am NOT disturbing your snack break. A simple please/thank you or perhaps a BAG when I’ve just purchased 5 items at the convenience store would be nice.

I work in healthcare and the healthcare industry is no exception. I recently had to go round and round with a billing specialist for my physician’s office because I received a bill in the mail for $1.49 for a procedure that was covered by my insurance company at 100% and was administered 14 months ago. The “specialist’s” response when I suggested that in one of my offices, we would have written off the amount and not spent the time, labor-hours, stationary and postage to send someone a bill for $1.49 was, “well, if you were REALLY in healthcare, you would know that we can’t just WRITE OFF $1.49. It’s not that simple. It’s really, really complicated and you would know that if you were REALLY in healthcare. You’re just going to have to contact your insurance company if you have a problem with it!”….dial tone.

I don’t understand how people have become more and more demanding in a society that has less and less to offer in terms of customer service. Where do people like the woman at the dentist office go to shop, bank, fuel their cars, visit the doctor where they are being so coddled that they expect to be placed before everyone else when it’s time to schedule an appointment or park their car? Am I shopping at the wrong grocery store? Am I visiting the wrong dermatologist? (mine has an 12 week waiting list for an appointment and has no problem telling you to go somewhere else if you complain about waiting so long). Is my bank on the wrong side of the tracks? What makes a person think that ANY business is going to accommodate them, much less when they are so demanding and particular that even the most accommodating business in town can’t keep them happy. More often than not, I get terrible service, discourteous service, or a complete and total lack of service. It’s been years since I was able to get help in a hardware store or department store without the clerk giving me a forced smile and sighing heavily when I ask them to give me a hand. Worse yet, nobody ever seems to know any more about the product I am looking at/for than I do. But I have a theory…

Could it be that the lack of customer service we’ve all begun to expect is a result of ignorant, arrogant elitists who give so little and demand so much that the service industry has just given up trying? We’ve all seen them. The guy at the table next to you in a restaurant who clearly never pays for a meal he orders ANYWHERE because he badgers the waiter and the manager over every petty little thing throughout his meal.

Could it be that bad attitudes and the “me, me, me!” perspective has screwed everything up for everyone? Perhaps the death of customer service was not a natural death. Perhaps it was an assassination.

My grandmother used to say, “You’ll draw more flies with sugar than with vinegar”. She was right. She was almost always right about everything. If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize, it’s that being a paying customer doesn’t give me the right to demand special treatment any more than being a taxpaying citizen gives me the right to say who buys the house next door or who gets to park on my street. My sister works in retail and she, like the majority of retail managers would tell you that she hates people. She hates them because they’re all a bunch of jackasses.

I would be interested in hearing your stories of horrible or delightful customer service, but I guess I’ve said all of that to say this – be nice to someone today…you never know – maybe those of us who still have a nice bone in our bodies can resurrect something that died a long time ago….

Nah! People are jackasses!


  • At 9:09 PM, October 23, 2005, Blogger HS Mom said…

    We moved from Fredericksburg, VA to the DC metro area 6 years ago. In terms of distance it's only 50 miles, in terms of courtesy and customer service among retail, public works, and food serving establishments we may as well be on another planet. Retail employees are often rude and don't know what it means to help out a customer. Workers at places like the Metro or county offices seem to take offense if you need assistance. I don't get that--I thought their job was to serve the public in some way. It's a cause for celebration when we get an order filled correctly at the drive through window at the closest McDonalds.

    That's not to say there aren't some places where customer service is friendly and helpful, but it seems to be the exception and not the rule.

    This is my theory: Businesses in our area simply don't care about training their employees in customer service. Why? Maybe because many people or most people simply don't care about manners and respect for others anymore. How could a person have respect for others if he doesn't respect himself; and how can a person respect himself if he isn't taught he is worthy of respect; and how can a person be worthy of respect if he is just a higher order of animal without a God-breathed spirit or could have been legally killed before birth? Where are these attitudes most prevalent? In areas with a strong liberal bent. And of course, the DC area is as liberal as you can get.

    It seems people are friendlier in areas where conservatism and thus value for life rules.

  • At 10:02 PM, October 23, 2005, Blogger P.I. Mom said…

    HS MOM - That is an extremely well put observation. One of those things that makes you go, "hmmmmmmmmm..." Thanks for your comment.


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