August 1999
s m u g
by Evany Thomas

Customer Disservice

I'm really big on calling customer service. Whenever there's the slightest hitch; if Alhambra over-charges me for water ("making friends" indeed!), "Toner and Copier Supply" spam gluts my inbox, or Pac Bell cuts off my phone -- I pour myself a coffee or fruity libation, sit in a nice, comfy chair, and get the hell on the horn. After anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes, I usually get my way (nothing chills the blood of a customer support agent like a person who appears to have nothing better to do than complain for as long as it takes).

At least, that's the way things used to be. In the last few months, however, there's been a change of heart in the world of customer service. Where once those head-setters were easily intimidated (when properly motivated), now they are unflappable. They're like roaches who've learned to adapt to the latest Motel:

"Let me transfer you to our customer happiness department!"

[music: "The answer, my friend, is blowing in th--"] All of our service representatives are busy right now, but please stay on the line and--

"Hello, and thank you for calling Pac Bell. How may we provide you with excellent service today?!"

"Well, you can start by turning my phone back on."

"Ah! Can I have your phone number please?!"


"And your name?!"

"Evany Thomas."

"Well, good morning, Miss Thomas! How can I help you today?!"

"Like I just said, you cut off my phone this morning, and I'm not really sure why."

"We didn't give you a notice?"


"No phone call? A letter? Because we usually give notice."


"Huh! Strange! Well, let's see if we can get to the bottom of this! [FAKEY KEYBOARD SOUND] Oh, I see now. We never received your last payment of $129.91."

"Yes you did. You cashed the check I sent you."

"Uh oh!! Let me transfer you to our claims department so we can get that cleared up right away!"

["...two tickets to Paradise! Pack your bags and we'll leave to--"]

"Hello! Can I have your phone number please?!"


"And your name?!

"Evany Thomas."

"Hello, Miss Thomas! How can I help you today?!"

[STRAINED SIGH] "You cut off my phone this morning, and your billing department tells me you did so because you never received my last payment, yet I have a cashed check here that says otherwise."

"No problem! You simply need to fax us a copy of your canceled check -- front and back! -- and we'll get this cleared up right away!"

"OK, but you see, this exact same thing happened last month, and it turned out you had deposited my check into someone else's account. Are you sure there's no one I can talk to about this obvious glitch in your system? [BEGIN "WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER" PLOY] Certainly you guys don't want to waste all this time faxing around, either."

"No, well, obviously not. But I'm sorry, we do need you to fax in that info! But if there are any additional services that interest you, I can help set those up for you! We have a special introductory offer of Call Waiting Caller ID right now, for instance!"

[LOSING MY MARBLES, MIND, AND SHIT] "Now why would I want to pay for additional services if you can't even get my basic service working correctly? Not only that, but why do I have to give my name and number and blood type to each department I'm transferred to, which, incidentally, has happened THREE times in this call alone? This is the 90s! You run a national business! Why can't you just pass my ID info along? What kind of retardo system do you have running there...?"

"Oka, Ma'am? Call me retardo one more time, and I'll hang up on you."


"I didn't call you retardo, I called Pac Bell retardo. And anyway, surely you can at least understand my frustration; last month I had to call you people eight different times before I could get everything straightened out. And now you're trying to make me do it all over again."

"Well, mistakes happen. Surely you don't claim to have never made a mistake yourself?"

"Yes. I have made mistakes. But not the same exact mistake two times in a row."


[LAUNCHING MY "TIME IS MONEY" ATTACK] "Listen. My time is valuable. The way I see it, you owe me money for the four-plus hours I've spent with you people over the last month."

"Ma'am. You aren't the only person whose time is valuable."

[SWITCHING TO MY PATENTED CRIMINAL ACTIVITY ACCUSATION] "Well, be that as it may, the fact of the matter is somebody has my money. Is there some sort of slush fund I'm padding? Are you all planning a trip to Vegas on my tab?"

"No, Ma'am."

[LAST-DITCHING IT WITH A CONSPIRACY THEORY -- NOBODY DENIES A PARANOID SCHIZO] "Have you flagged my file with a note that says "Screw up this customer's life"?

"No, Ma'am."

[FINALLY, I GIVE IN] "OK. Fine. Give me the fax number I need to send my canceled check to."

"Certainly! It's 510-451-5105! Now, is there any other way I can provide you with excellent service today?"

"No, Ma'am."

It isn't just Pac Bell. I get the same exact thing with my credit card people ("We cut off your card because of some very suspicious activity." "Oh? Like what?" "Well, there's a $23.49 charge on June 7th, followed by a charge of $33.25 on June 20th."). Martha Stewart Living Magazine is now all over my ass. Apparently my mother got me a subscription for my birthday, yet she (Martha) seems to think that I was the gift-giver, my mother the giftee, so she keeps sending me bills, which feature increasingly threatening language (but the bond stock it's written on is luxurious) and no phone number to call to straighten it all out (as if that would make a difference).

All of this can not be a coincidence. No, something bigger than me is afoot.

My theories are:
a) All these customer service people have started going to the same bar after work, and, one night as they sloshed back Stinger after Side Car (certainly I'd recklessly mix drinks if I had people like me screeching into my headset all the live-long day), my name came up. Notes were exchanged, my fate sealed.
b) There's really only one customer service agency. So each time I call in, whether to my bank or my long distance carrier (a term which brings plague to mind, no?), I'm talking to the same handful of people. And they are all sadists who have turned the act of ruining the little things in people's lives into a fetish.
c) Y2K.
Frankly, the idea of a sinister group of customer service people out to underground-railroad me is just a bit heavy to face, which is why I'm rooting, and planning, for option C. So far, I've stockpiled enough jerky and lingonberry concentrate to last me through at least 5000 hours of hold music. Now, I just sit, and wait.

in the junk drawer

and such
and such

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