C Gopinath

Reflections on the pain and pleasure of consumerism

C Gopinath | Updated on September 08, 2021

Customer travails   -  /iStockphoto

We have learned to blame a lot on Covid-19. Depression, students not studying, restaurant failures, travel woes, and the list can go on. Here is one more to throw into the pot. Customer service purgatory.

Have you tried to reach the customer service of any enterprise? You almost begin to wish they would be nationalised. First, you would have noticed that it is almost impossible to find a phone number to call. The ‘Customer service’ or the ‘Contact us’ pages have only email addresses. Some have their own template for you to fill out asking you for multiple contact information that you may be reluctant to share. And then, what do you do when you don’t get a reply?

Some firms have a ‘Chat’ box that is operated by a chatbot. You will be encouraged to state your problem for which you will get a standard formulaic cheery reply which will not address your issue. But you will be immediately asked if you are happy or satisfied. Frustratingly, there is no place to say ‘NO!’

Don’t be thrilled if you do have a number to call. You will be directed to a mail box where you can leave your message. Don’t wait for a reply.

If there is a chance that you may reach a real person, you will be put on hold, and will be asked you if you can stay on for a short survey about how they did. You can start formulating your choice curse words because you know how this is going to turn out.

Some firms very kindly state that they don’t want to waste your time. Due to ‘an unusually high call volume’, you will be told that the wait time is 3 hours 18 minutes. However, you can hold your place in line by opting for a call back. You may do so to maintain your dignity — just don’t expect to get a call back in that time frame.

We are now down to the one-in-a-million chance that you may actually get in line to talk to someone. You will be first told that the conversation will be recorded for use in training purposes. Who are they training? Perhaps you.

Finally, a cheery voice comes on the line. Since they have been trained by repeated previous conversations, the voice will first ask you to go through your name, account number, secret security question, and then your phone number, so they can call back in case the conversation is interrupted. Be sure that the call will get interrupted but don’t bother waiting for a call back.

You call again as you reflect about the pain and pleasure of consumerism.

Why have we come down to this? Some service providers who are monopolies have decided that poor service does not affect their business because the customer has no alternative. Other companies claim that they cut back on consumer service positions significantly as businesses shrank due to Covid. This is difficult to believe. Communications technology allows companies to farm out and disperse customer service widely so hiring cannot be an issue. The service is probably farmed out to the lowest cost provider, and in spite of recording all those conversations, the employees are not being adequately trained. Also compensation of CEOs has not been falling because customer service is that line item on the budget that companies have begun to draw upon to keep those CEOs happy.

How should we respond as customers? Stop providing them your custom. We need to be active on social media to make our views known about those companies that provide poor customer service. Make them pay. Similarly reward those who provide good customer service. It’s time to be an activist.

The writer is an associate professor emeritus at Suffolk University, Boston

Published on September 08, 2021

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