Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Service? Service? Would You Like Some Service With That Service?

When did the concept of service change from “we’ll happily help you” to “we’ll try to get there but you will have to wait at least four hours, oh, and that’s only if we’re not late and have to come the next day.” My favorite part of the ‘service required’ event may be the telephone conversation that kicks off the process. Let’s use, for example, the service one needs for a bi-yearly check up on a heating and cooling system. When we installed the system the company we were dealing with was a family owned business. Very popular in our area and more importantly, thorough and service friendly. As is often the case, they sold to a larger company who basically didn’t give a damn about the customer, just the bottom line. They are called ARS... I call and ask for a service appointment. They tell me the date. I ask for an early morning appointment and I am willing to wait until one becomes available. They tell me there is no guarantee anything will ever be available. I remark that there is always going to be a time when something will be available. We go back and forth and I threaten to go elsewhere and to bad mouth them all over Arlington and they pretend to care and relent. I make these threats remembering that there was a guy on the road from Arlington to Mclean (maybe 6 miles), who had a bad experience with a company called, Long Fence and he put a big sign on his property that said “Don’t use Long Fence”. It was quite effective and I, among many others I suspect, certainly would never have used Long Fence. So I had this tactic in mind but they do show up at whatever time they want, knowing that I’m not going to leave.

It’s the same in department and other stores but with a little different flair. When you are trying to buy something there is never anyone around to help—except at Trader Joes. If by chance, you find what you need, it is nearly impossible to purchase it without waiting in a long line at the cash register... the lines are so long, in fact, that to avoid customer pushing and shoving, many stores have created Disney-like rope lines. This of course, is a way to cut back on the number of cashiers needed in order to ‘serve ‘ the customer.

Did I mention that at least 50% of all service persons were not born in this country and some are not even located in this country. Let’s start with the telephone service person name Julie or Brad who happens to be located in India or Pakistan. It is no longer as simple as “hello, can you help me?” It is always complicated by a subtle cultural difference. Like last week I was pretending to be my mother to deal with a credit card issue. Yes, I pretend to be my mother and it usually drives them crazy enough to want to get off the phone by resolving whatever my complaint in a timely manner. I’m just good at that. Anyway, the service person was not an American. I have taken to asking where they are located in order to have a sense of what or with whom I’m dealing. The question of where they are located does one of two things: either they answer with pride, or they get indignant about my discovery. Whichever it happens to be, I know there will be tension and I will end up asking for a supervisor and they will hang up before I can tell the supervisor—usually in the US, that Brad or Julie was an idiot. Needless to say, when I am pretending to be my mother I prefer dealing with someone who just wants to be done with ‘some old lady’. Last year when mom was in the hospital, David called the Social Security office to see if we could do direct deposit. They insisted on talking to Mrs. Groman, so I got on the phone (as my mother) and within five minutes they were begging to have ‘the young man’ back. OK it is possible to have fun with people who are providing a service but not enough and not frequently.

This in not meant to be a commentary about immigration, and as a good Democrat, I want everyone who lives in this country to have opportunity, but it does drive me nuts not to be able to understand a person who is answering a question for me—even in a fast food establishment. Like, “can I have my burger without ketchup”? And the response is “Yes madam it will come on a roll.” I know they say it’s hard to get Americans to fill these jobs (which I’m not sure I believe—although it is probably cheaper to get someone foreign born to take orders at a drive through window), and I’m not saying that hamburger flippers have to be born in the USA, but I want them to speak English and understand the difference between a hot fudge and a caramel sundae—is that asking too much?

I know you’re wondering what precipitated this blob. Or maybe you’re not but David spent the day waiting for a Verizon guy and I spent the day waiting for someone to fix my air-conditioner for the fifth time. The waiting for service, seems never to end when you own any property, need to purchase something, or just want to have a life. I often think we should agree to wait the appropriate amount of time and after that we should start charging them for our time. Why should our time be less valuable than theirs. So here’s the good news and the bad. Good first. David’s Verizon guy was late but fixed the phones and was very appreciative for the coffee. Bad news. My guys came early, spent five minutes knocking the machine around and left—with the air-conditioner still leaking. More not surprising news—I will be waiting for more service people this week. We’re just sayin...Iris

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