EXCUSE ME?

By

William A. Gralnick

So many topics, so little time. You’re right, time is infinite, but so are the topics and that begs the question about how much of that time will be mine to use.

That said, I’m going to scratch an itch and muse about what to put on the itch. Customer Service is the itch. Let’s start with a retail clothing store. Remember the days when you could walk into either a department store or freestanding store and be serviced? Someone approached you, asked you what you were looking for, eyed you up and down, told you what your suit or dress size was, and then took you to the stock. That person could answer most any question you had. When was the last time you had that experience? In fact, when was the last time you had that experience in any kind of store?

Yesterday and today are the reasons I finally decided to write this. Yesterday it was Amazon. My impression is that humans have left Amazon leaving only robots with a list of options. I must admit that returns are usually quite easy. All you have to do is tell them why you are making the return and where you’ll return it. BUT–what happens if your reason isn’t on the list? After an hour of going up and down the xylophone of options, I finally got a robot who told me if I wanted to speak to another robot who would then, depending on the content, refer me to a third robot. I’ll skip the details. I’ll just tell you that I got what seemed to be a doable option. Did I want someone to call me? A real someone! I did. Unless they called you by mistake…you get the point.

Let me throw in my experience with Gillette of razor blade fame. In a moment of mental instability, I signed up for automatic delivery. It seems like it’s raining razor blades. I have enough to clean shave a camel or shave my face until 2115. Cancel? Try it. I get a notice that my next shipment is coming. The email address begins with contactus… Don’t bother. It’s a lie. Back to Google. I get a customer service number. Out of order. Anyone need a razor blade or two?

Let’s move on to Xfinity/Comcast. You will shortly understand why people hate their cable companies. We are big fans of Yellowstone. We looked forward to the new season and tuned in. There it was on screen. This Sunday what was on the screen was a message that I needed to subscribe to Paramount +. I had a question. That was a mistake. Why if I saw it the week before was I not able to watch it this week? Inquiring minds want to know. I called.

The line of robots was longer than the voting lines. My first robot insisted on telling me if my account was up to date. Every time I said/then yelled/then screamed REPRESENTATIVE this nice voice told me I didn’t owe any money. It asked if I was satisfied and would I take a survey. No was the answer. Next the robot understood I wanted something else so it asked me to choose from a basketful of possible options. None of them was the right one. Again my ascending howls for a representative.

The robot got the hint and said, “I know you want to speak to a representative. Please answer these questions so I can direct you to someone who can help you. Again, the questions didn’t cover what I wanted to find out. It asked me if I wanted a chat-bot. They make me insane. No. I hung up. I needed to regroup and develop a new strategy.

Google helped me out. Some fellow who had just come out of where I was currently stuck, gave me two phone numbers. He said the second one did the trick but there would be questions. I dialed the first just for grins and got the same robot that caused me to almost jump out the window. After all our previous time together, she didn’t even recognize me. I hung up. I tried the second phone number. The one difference was that it seemed to be decibel sensitive. When I was working up to sounding like Tarzan in a tree, a person came on the line. I was speechless but realized that if I didn’t say something she’d hang up and I’d hang myself.

It wasn’t easy. These people have a playbook. Even their chatting you up is scripted. When I called my mail order pharmacy, I got a “What’ve you got planned for Thanksgiving conversation. At Comcast, it was at the same point in the conversation I got it the first time. Good Grief! They didn’t care, it’s that some script writer made it sound like they cared. The long and short of it? Seventeen dollars later, I was the newest member of Paramount + streaming service. The only problem is it will take me a day or two to recoup my strength enough to push the power button on my remote.

What can one do? I fear the answer is nothing unless one can find the back number that is answered by humans. I’ve written many a letter. They must have been bad letters because things have only gotten worse. Join the “dump cable” movement? I’ve been considering it but some of the streaming services, most notably Apple TV, take so long to get into your TV and then are buffering themselves so often you think this is by design, a conspiracy by television makers. How so? Because one is constantly dealing with the urge to throw a shoe through the TV screen, necessitating of course the purchase of another set.

This I can tell you. Between dealing with robots and watching television commercials there is no hope for our society to remain competitive–at least from my perspective.

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Bill would like to remind everyone that ’tis the season to give. A great gift, light, funny, endearing, and memory-evoking are his books, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn” and “George Washington Never Slept Here.” Won’t you please consider helping him out? Amazon.com will get you there by title or author.

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