In our century, customer service has become the work of efficient, uncaring machines that are taking over the world. Right now, they’re processing orders for Amazon and stockpiling our personal information on Facebook. So you’d better be nice to them. Otherwise, it’s Judgement Day.
Try calling a business…any business…for technical support. The computer picks up your incoming call and the interrogation begins. The computer’s fascist demeanor is masked by the cheerful recordings. Seven questions later, you find yourself screaming into the phone, “Give me a human, damnit.”
The machine replies, “I’m sorry I did not understand your response.” This is computer speak for, “Calm down human or I’ll terminate this call.”
If you’re a good boy or girl you will eventually get to talk to a human being. This person lives 8,163 miles away and the connection is lousy. You quickly find out that English is not his first language, or second for that matter. And then he introduces himself as “Joe.” It only goes downhill from here. Somewhere in cyberspace a mainframe is laughing.
Computers haven’t replaced all customer interaction. You can still find real live employees in brick and mortar stores. And folks still complain about that. Customer service was so much better thirty, forty or fifty years ago, they whine. People cared about customers back then.
Well, that may have been the case somewhere in this county but not where I grew up. Thirty years ago customer service in Jersey didn’t resemble a Norman Rockwell painting. And it still doesn’t. Not by a long shot.
My folks owned a rental property in a sleepy shore town called Ocean Beach. The cottage had to be inspected every year before the rental season began. If you didn’t pass inspection, you couldn’t rent. One of the regulations involved window screens. Even a small hole in an screen would fail. And you couldn’t patch the screen and plastic screening wasn’t approved either. Go figure.
It was the week before the Memorial Day weekend. The inspector was scheduled for mid week. That’s when I discovered the hole. I removed the screen and hightailed it to The Atlantic Aluminum company. They were the only shop that sold and repaired aluminum screens. I had been there plenty of times before.
I brought the screen up to the front desk.
The big guy behind the counter looked me over. “What do you want?”
“I have a screen that needs repair.”
“You see, I’m getting my parents bungalow ready for the season.”
“Never would have guessed.”
“I need it repaired before the inspector shows up.”
“You and everybody else.”
“Here’s the thing. I’m from out of town, Virginia. I have to head back home two days from now. Is there any way that you could get this fixed by then?”
He pushed his tongue into the side of his cheek and looked away.
I just stood there.
His head snapped back. “You come in here expecting a miracle or something?”
“You think I’m just standing around here waiting for a guy like you to walk in?”
Actually, he was just standing around but I didn’t bring it up.
He turned and yelled into the workshop in the back. “Hey Vinnie, come out here. Get a load of this guy.”
I had gone from regular customer to comedic prop in under two minutes.
Vinnie emerged from the back room, “What is it, Sal?”
“You see this guy here? He wants us to drop everything and fix his screen right now.” Sal turned back to me. “What am I from hunger?”
Vinnie looked over at me and shook his head. “You got some nerve.”
“If you can’t help me…” I took a step back towards the door.
Now it was Sal’s turn, “This is our busy week. Everybody wants repairs done.”
“Everybody.” Vinnie said.
“Okay,” I said as I picked up the screen.
“Where are you going?”
“Well, you said…”
“Come here. Gimme that screen.”
I handed him the screen.
Sal grabbed it, looked it over and showed it to Vinnie. “Whaddaya think of this screen?”
“It’s a piece of crap.”
Sal turned back to me and nodded. “A piece of crap. The frame is loose. You need a whole new screen.”
“Okay fine,“ I said. “No problem. Can I pick it up Tuesday?”
“Are you going to start up with me again?”
“I’ll get to it when I can. Thursday maybe.”
“I have to go home. I won’t be here.”
“You gotta pay in advance then.”
And so I did. In the end, I had to reschedule the inspector and beg a friend to pick up and install the screen for me. Everything got done just under the wire.
New Jersey customer service…fuhgettaboutit!