STUPIDIZATION

Thinking is out of fashion. Brains are dead gray lumps of matter. They have no use, but are merely taking up space inside our skulls. How do I know this?

Last week Charter turned off first our cable box, then, our telephone. Eventually they re-provisioned the telephone and some hours later, they fixed our cable box. Since then, our phone has been wonky. It rings, but when I answer it, there’s just silence. Or I call and I hear someone pick up, but all I hear after that is … nothing.

It’s intermittent. Sometimes, it works, other times, not. And we all know that an intermittent problems is the hardest to pin down.

My best friend and I had a whole afternoon of trying to talk to each other by phone and only because we are both very determined, stubborn women did we finally connect. Her cell phone will not speak to my landline and it doesn’t matter who calls who. Something is broken.

Today, I tried to get an appointment with my oncologist. Not only is it that time of year again, but I have a hard thing in one breast that I need to make sure isn’t serious. I don’t think it is. I think it’s scar tissue. Adhesions, if you like. However, I can’t simply ignore it. I had to make an appointment with my oncologist at Dana-Farber.

No answer at the front desk, so I left a message to call me back. They tried, but could not get through. I called them again, but I couldn’t get through. Eventually, I got through using a different number — and they got back to me using sheer persistence.

With utmost reluctance and trepidation, I realized I was going to have to call Charter. Again. I had no way to know how many calls I had missed. I couldn’t continue to ignore the problem.

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The call went surprisingly well. I got through to an agent in record time … a couple of minutes, even including my usual hostility fueled interface with the robotic telephone interference system. I got a fellow who found my account and quickly ascertained that the phone was not holding the signal after connection. He said there was no point in trying to fix it remotely. He would have to send an actual human technician to see what’s wrong. Holy expletive, Batman! He also said he’d put a note in the record so the tech would know to come even if I didn’t answer the call, being as I wasn’t consistently able to receive calls.

Two hours later, the phone rang. I could see it was Charter Communications, but surprise! Only silence from the other end. I took courage in hand and called them back. After getting a person — navigating the robot was a little more difficult this time — I got a young lady. I explained they had called me and I needed to know why. Eventually, she ascertained that it must have something to do with my appointment with the technician for the day after tomorrow.

I said, yes, indeed. Our phone was only intermittently able to receive calls, which is why we needed the technician. She explained that the technician’s have to call to confirm the appointment, or they won’t come. I took a deep breath and pointed out that the guy who is coming is the telephone technician whose job it is to fix broken phone service. And that there should be notes to that effect in my file.

She averred that this was true. She said she would try to make sure that the technician — THE TELEPHONE REPAIR TECHNICIAN — understood that OUR PHONE ISN’T WORKING PROPERLY and he could not rely on getting telephone call through to us.


“Do you have an alternate phone number?” she asked.

“Not really,” I replied.

“Because he will need to call you.”

“The phone is broken. He’s the phone technician. Don’t you think he should be able to put these two pieces of information together? Wouldn’t that suggest that calling me might not work out?”

“I suppose,” she said, tentatively. I could hear the doubt in her voice. She wasn’t entirely clear on how these separate pieces of information were related.

“Seriously, just tell him to come. Don’t call. Just show up. I promise, on my honor, we will be here. I cannot promise the phone will ring, or if it rings, that I will hear anything when I answer it. Because that’s the problem. That’s why he’s coming. That’s what he is supposed to fix.”


And that’s where we left it. Is it me? Am I expecting too much? Shouldn’t the guy coming to fix the phone be able to deduce that there’s a problem — some kind of malfunction — involving the telephone. Their telephone service. Ergo ipso, calling to confirm the appointment might not work out?

Are they putting something in the water? The air? Is this one of the effects of global climate change, the stupidization of humanity?

ADVENTURES WITH CHARTER CUSTOMER SERVICE

It started out to be a bummer of a day and went downhill from there.

We were not watching the inauguration. Pointedly not watching the inauguration. We had been planning all month to not watch the inauguration, so we hadn’t turned on the television. Meanwhile, in today’s mail I got a notice from Charter that the special, discounted rate that brought our monthly fee down from piratical to merely exorbitant, had expired.

customerservice-dilbertI called customer service. We had a disagreeable conversation about how they couldn’t do anything except reduce our package to 165 channels, 160 of which are shopping channels, religious channels, MTV, and radio stations. None of which we would ever use. It would remove all the sports channels, every movie channel including Turner Classics, leaving us with a hefty bill, the networks, and dyspepsia. I asked to be switched to the “customer retention” department because I was feeling in a very “unplug the bastards” mood.

Customer Retention is the department in charge of keeping folks like us from cutting the cord. They are the designated “let’s make a deal” department. I know the routine. I get to do this every year when they hike up my rates because whatever special deal or discount they gave me last time expired.

The little snot assured me there was absolutely nothing she — or anyone — could do. Assured me that “customer retention” would also be unable (unwilling) to help. I said “How about you connect me with them anyhow?” Still protesting, she transferred me.

Customer Retention offered me a $20 a month discount for a year. I said “thank you” but why couldn’t we just make some kind of arrangement so I don’t have to go through the same routine every January? He thought that was pretty funny. I heaved a deep sigh, thanked him, and hung up. Went to the kitchen to make dinner. Which was going to be almond-crusted salmon, except the salmon was full of bones. I was extracting fish bones with my tweezers when Garry called from the living room. The cable box had no signal. It wasn’t doing anything. I suggested he reboot again. If that didn’t work, I’d call Charter.

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I continued extracting salmon bones and Garry informed me he had rebooted twice. Still no signal. I was going to have to call Charter. Pull out my fingernails. Burn me with hot pokers. Stretch me on the rack. Waterboard me. But please, don’t make me call Customer Service.

Yet, there was naught else to be done. I called. Got The Robot. Couldn’t seem to get past the robot, so I called again and tried a different sequence of keys, eventually winding up at Technical Support. Nice guy. Couldn’t figure out what exactly was causing the problem, but he tried to fix it. Couldn’t. Finally said he was transferring me back to Customer Retention. Whatever they’d done had made it impossible for them to access my line.

Back at Customer Retention, some guy named Scott (or maybe it was Sean?) told me the discount he’d put through had, for some reason, failed to complete its journey and was clogging the pipes, so to speak. He did stuff and said he thought he was almost done. Just a minute more, he said … and I waited. And waited. And then, I realized I’d been disconnected. Furthermore, not only was the cable box not working, but now the telephone signal was dead. No dial tone. No TV.

I pulled the cell phone out of my bag. Called Charter Customer Service. Fought my way through the robot, the clueless secretary, eventually winding up back at tech support who transferred me to Customer Retention. They said my phone was working fine. I said no it wasn’t and I would appreciate them giving me back both my cable service and my telephone, please. And would they please try not to turn off the WiFi too?

And this is why I shop at Zappos. Because they say this and they mean it.

And this is why I shop at Zappos. Because they say this and they mean it.

They gave me an additional $50 a month discount for a year. Said they had done all they could from their end. Reconnected me with Tech Support. Who explained they had no idea why it wasn’t working, but it should start working. Any time now.

They couldn’t fix the phone. Not their department. Not to worry, though, it would all be fine. Eventually. Just , well, their servers were slower than usual. National events messing with us, no doubt. I didn’t bother to point out that from my perspective, they actually hadn’t fixed anything yet, but it was good to know that my bill would be lower.

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Telephone Service Department guy was very pleasant and had the best voice I’ve listened to in a long time. A rich, deep basso profundo that would put James Earl Jones to shame. He also got the phone working in short order. Not just a pretty voice. Sadly, he was unable to tell me why my cable box was still not working, but he was sure it would be working … maximum another hour. Or two. But maybe we should just not plan on television this evening.

I went back to the kitchen and tossed the salmon in the trash. I’d lost my enthusiasm for extracting fish bones. Garry offered to make a run to MacDonald’s. I said I wasn’t eating anything from anyplace with “Donald” in the name, so we had spaghetti. After we’d eaten and cleaned up, we rebooted the system.

No signal.

I rebooted again.

No signal.

I called Charter Customer Service. This time, the robot said it could tell I’d called before and was this the same problem? I shouted “YES!!” into the phone and was transferred to my favorite live person, the clueless secretary whose job it (apparently) is to prevent customers from talking to people who know something. I said I needed Customer Retention and she said I didn’t. I was getting hoarse and tired. Garry was sitting next to me with his head on the table, face down, gently banging his forehead.

Technical Support checked with Customer Retention. Assured me that everything was right as rain, no problem. I didn’t think I was being unreasonable when I asked how come I still didn’t have a signal? He said he was positive I would have a signal … maximum an hour. I said that was what the last guy said. He said he didn’t know why it was taking so long. I assured him that I had been asking myself that very question.

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We chatted pleasantly about this and that and he asked me how many times I’d called and I said honestly, I couldn’t remember, but it seemed like a lot. He repeated that he was sure it would all work itself out and maybe we should just not even try to watch TV this evening? Who’d want to watch it anyway … because … you know … whatsisname being inaugurated and all.

Two hours later, still no signal. We’re watching “Murdoch Mysteries” on AcornTV. Streaming video, the saving grace of modern viewing. We’ll catch up with our regular shows later. If anyone were to ask my about my day, I’d have to tell them my favorite moment was when while allegedly fixing the cable box, they disconnected telephone service. That was special, don’t you think?

I’m going to have to call Charter Customer Service. Again.

In total: eight calls. Six hours without cable service including three hours without telephone service or TV.

Oh, and they gave us an extra $10 credit on the next bill. Whoopee! So … we weren’t going to watch the inauguration, but if we had been tempted, we were saved by Charter unplugging us. Mysterious ways. Very mysterious.

COMPUTERS, SOFTWARE, GUNS, AND US: NOT A RANT, JUST A RAMBLE

Yesterday, I tried to download a book from my Audible.com library and got a message telling me I didn’t have adequate permission.

I’ve been an Audible member since 2002 and I’m pretty sure I have more than adequate permissions. I tried what I thought I knew, then gave up and called Audible. Which is not as horrific as, for example, having to call Dell. I think I’d rather have a root canal than have to deal with Dell service people. The folks at Audible are nice. Helpful. Mostly knowledgeable. Pleasant and patient. Which is good because when my computer is playing up, I transform into a very cranky old person. I depend on my computer. I expect it to just do its job, without complaint. Without hesitation and without any special massaging. I don’t burn incense to it as I used to with some of my more persnickety machines through the years.

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We went through every menu and fixed permissions. Edited the registry. Nope, permission still denied. Which was when I realized that the application denying permission was actually Chrome, not Windows or my operating system. Good news? I wouldn’t need to call Dell. Bad news? What are the odds of actually getting a person to talk to at Google?

But my new friend at Audible had a secret weapon. He gave me the tech support direct line for Google! How cool is that? I was dubious, but I finally womaned up and called them.

Two dogs and a computer

Two dogs and a computer

They answered. It was human, not a robot. We got it fixed. Something had corrupted between when I signed off last night — well after midnight — and when I arose in the late hours of the day and signed on. This confirms my belief that our dogs secretly have opposable thumbs. They do stuff on the computers while we sleep. How else can a perfectly good browser go bad while nothing is happening? It’s got to be the dogs. J’accuse!


One of the many conversations Garry and I had yesterday had to do with weapons and shooting people to protect ourselves or others. He said he might not be able to kill anyone unless they threatened me. Then, all bets were off. I said I was afraid, unfamiliar as I am with guns except for the 22 mm target rifle I used to slay paper plates almost 50 years ago. On vacation in Maine. Even then, I didn’t load the rifle or clean it. Someone just handed it to me, loaded and cocked, said “Hold it this way” and I shot the crap out of that paper plate. It never stood a chance against my wrath.

That same long ago day in Maine, as my friends and I were passing the rifle around, shooting those paper plates (which we had tacked to an understanding pine tree) … a pheasant wandered by, and decided to hang around awhile. He wasn’t impressed with our fire power. He just stood there, in front of the tree, looking at us.

pheasant

An argument broke out. Who would shoot the pheasant? What if we shot him, but he didn’t die? Who was going to shoot him again? Who would pull out the feathers and what else did you need to do to make that pheasant into a meal? Eventually, we just shooed him away. Mighty hunters we were not.

Given that little piece of history, I have no reason to believe in my ability to kill anything. For any reason. If I started to think, by the time my brain registered the need for haste, I’d be dead. Unless that other part of me kicked in, that “emergency response unit” that seems to pop up only on an “as needed” basis. At which point all my thought processes stop and I just do whatever I need to do to survive. That could happen, right? But I wouldn’t count on it.

Garry has at least had the benefit of having gone through basic training in the Marine Corps. Once, a long time ago, he could take his weapon apart and put it back together with his eyes closed. Not that we have such a weapon, but at least he has — somewhere in memory — a fundamental familiarity with a weapon.

Lucky that we’ve never been tested, eh?

THE AGENTS IN THE DELL – A THURSDAY RANT

I wasn’t going to bother to write this because you’ve heard it before. And you’ll hear it again. The same old sad story. Dell makes some amazing computers — yet they have what must be the worst customer service on the planet. I do not see how it could be worse. It is so bad on so many different levels, it’s hard to know where to start. But then, I realized I might as well write it. Writing it could make me feel better. Eventually, I will also find it funny. I’m nearly ready to begin laughing. One more cuppa coffee and I’m there. Laughing.

This problem — not a huge problem, mind you — was whoever put my machine together forgot to install the Adobe software I bought with the computer. Or leave a link — or give me an unlock key to download it myself. Knowing Dell as I do, I considered just forgetting it. Let them keep the money and move on. But it’s $80. A bit too much to let slide.

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The thing about Dell Customer Disservice, other than its general suckiness, is that they never connect you to the right department. They repeatedly ask for the same information, but whoever you talk to next won’t have the information and you’ll have to provide it again. If you ask for the number to which they are supposedly transferring you because you fear they will disconnect you, you can be sure the phone number is either no longer in service, or is completely wrong. The ones they gave me were either: (1) disconnected, (2) A cruise scam organization (you know, free cruise if you give us all your personal information?), and (3) Direct-TV. What I wanted? Sales Support for Alienware.

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Any agent to whom you talk will never read what (if anything) a previous agent wrote — so you are always back on square one. No one ever calls you back or can provide you with a number to get you to the same person again.

They put you on hold and forget about you. Or disconnect you. They transform minor problems that could be dealt with by any normal company in a couple of minutes, into a week-long crises.

The first two agents I spoke to insisted I really had the software and was too inexperienced with computers to find it. Both agents went poking around INSIDE my computer (remotely). Each independently ascertained that the software isn’t there, nor is there any download link for me to acquire it. So, finally, after I got a bit strident about it, they connected me with a supervisor (this identical scenario played out twice). Both of whom informed me that they would not be able to deliver it. The first said it would be another five days. What? A download?

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I was in “patience is my middle name” mode, so I waited. Five days later with no further contact from Dell, I called again. The first agent told me I would have to wait ten days more and disconnected me. I hit redial. When finally I got an agent, I shouted: “I WANT MY MONEY BACK.” I felt I needed to get his attention before he disconnected me again.

The agent (aka idiot) explained he could escalate “my issue” and maybe (only maybe) I would get my money back. He would “send a request” up to whoever were slightly more in charge than he was, but he could not guarantee they would comply. Because, he said, I probably already have the software and simply can’t find it.

I started to say something, but choked on my own words. Several deep, cleansing breaths later, I pointed out Dell had failed to deliver something for which I had paid. They do not get to NOT give me the product OR return my money. That’s theft. But my idiot said those were the “rules” and I said “we have other rules in this country and I want to talk to a supervisor. NOW.” My idiot assured me a supervisor would say exactly the same idiotic thing. I said that, were this to prove true, then I would keep going up the ladder to the damned president of the company if I had to, so put the supervisor ON the phone NOW.” I think I may have been yelling by then.

Got the supervisor. After he too explained that the software was ON the machine and I explained he should read the notes on this case number (yes, I had a case number) and he would see that no, I don’t have it and no, I’m apparently not going to get it, and frankly, I’m sorry I ever ordered it, and now give me my money back before I call the Attorney General and report the company (I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first) for Felony Stupidity and Customer Malfeasance.

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Eventually he said he couldn’t give me the $82.95 Dell owed me, but would $100 be okay? I said yeah, fine. He was still talking when I hung up. I’d been on the phone for three hours and the dogs needed feeding, Garry wanted help unloading the groceries and my ear was getting sore.

Yesterday, I was issued a refund for $82.95. Can I sue for emotional distress?

I still don’t understand why there is any problem. It’s a download. I could download the software on the spot from Adobe. I’d only bought it from Dell because it was much cheaper.

This is supposed to be (wait for it, wait for it) PREMIUM CUSTOMER SERVICE. I hesitate to imagine the standard shit they are dishing out these days to regular, non-premium customers.

I buy Dell computers in spite of Dell. The computers are great, but oh-lord-give-me-strength to deal with their “customer disservice.” This morning, they sent me a “customer satisfaction” survey. I didn’t bother to fill it out.

THE DAY I (PERSONALLY) TOOK THE MACHINES DOWN

ADVENTURES IN UPGRADES, PART WHATEVER

Garry wrote how the patrons of our local grocery store went into shock when the debit and credit card readers stopped working. The lost, hopeless, dead eyes. Cash? Checks? What? I don’t understand?

Read it here: THE DAY THE MACHINES WENT DOWN

Yesterday was even more special because I personally took the machines down. With a lot of help from Bank of America. Our bank. Probably the biggest bank in the country, whose local Uxbridge branch is where we conduct business. It’s across the parking lot from our favorite grocery store.

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Hannaford is not the biggest local supermarket. Its selection tends to be a bit whimsical. Just because you could find the Asian Sesame dressing last week does not mean you will ever see it on the shelves again. We have adjusted. I think of it the way I used to think of seasonal vegetables when I lived in Israel. You could get anything — in season. Otherwise, you ate something else. Adjusting ones life and eating habits to the rhythm of the earth and its crops. Or, in this case, to whoever stocks the grocery shelves.

I awoke yesterday to the realization we were out of food and this is Labor Day weekend. If we didn’t shop today, the shelves would be empty. On Monday, the store would be closed.

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So, after the clock’s hand had slid past three o’clock when road construction in town ends, we took to the road. It’s just about 3 miles to town. Two lanes. No wider than it has to be.

I have to backtrack briefly. BOA has been “upgrading” debit cards to include a security chip. They notify you they are going to replace your card. When you receive it in the mail, you must activate it, sign it, and cut up the old one because it will no longer work.

I’m as geeky as the next techno-junkie yet I am highly dubious about “security enhancements” by banks. I have seen how very wrong they can go. Regardless, I had no choice. My card arrived a week. I followed instructions.

Garry has been spared this “upgrade.” Overlooked? Whatever the reason, he is happy to do what he has always done. It works, no problems. Bank of America has had its servers hacked several times (it was on the news, everywhere). The bank is more of a security risk than we are. But I digress (again).

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Going into town took a long time. Although the road repair guys had gone home, the people building the new fire station had not stopped work. And the school buses are back, too.

Worst of all, a cop was directing traffic. Apparently in cop school, they teach them to let every single car going one way through the construction zone until finally, when not a single car can be seen, they let the other lane start moving. By this time, there’s a mile of backed up cars to clear. When there’s no cop, drivers work it out for themselves and while it may slow down, there is no massive traffic jam.

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We finally got to the store. Parked. Went in. Fresh, local corn has arrived. Oh yum. I bought some. Bought stuff for dinner. Got some fresh veggies. Got some swordfish. Frozen shrimp. Did not buy lobster, even though they were on sale. Picked up everything on the list except frozen pizza. And headed for the checkout.

Not bad for a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. And then, it was time to pay. I took out my brand, new chip-enabled secure debit card and pushed it into the reader … which immediately cancelled the transaction and told me I had removed my card too quickly. My card was still IN the machine.

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The young woman at the register took a deep breath, reinstated the transaction, and in went my new, secure debit card. Again. This time, it cancelled the transaction, said there’d been an error and I had removed my card (still in the machine) too fast. The register froze. The folks behind me in line were pretty nice about it. No one pulled a gun.

They got other registers working and everyone migrated to other aisles. Except us. Because we were already in this register and they had to reboot it to get it unfrozen.

“It’s not my fault,” I whimpered. “They said I had to get this new card with the chip.” Which was true, so I don’t know why everyone was mad at me.

“Feel free to get mad at Bank of America. They’re just over there,” I said, pointing to the other side of the parking lot. “Tell them!”

When the machines came back up, Garry used his card, the one without the chip.

Finally, we went home. I called the bank and was put on hold. I put the phone on speaker and left it to its own devices expecting I’d eventually hear a “How can we help you.” An hour later, it was still playing drippy muzak.

I tried a different number. Same message, but different muzak. I tried the local bank site. All the chat people were engaged. They suggested I try later. Their email was also down. By now, I was getting a feeling there was more going wrong at Bank of America than a bad chip in my debit card.

Finally … almost three hours after I first called, I got a “live chat” person on line. Bianca. Hello Bianca. My new debit card with the fancy chip technology isn’t working.

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“We have a note that you entered an incorrect PIN earlier today.”

“I was never asked for my PIN. It cancelled my transaction and told me my card had been removed too fast, but the card was still in the machine.”

“I can send you a PIN reminder.”

“I know my PIN. It’s the  card. It also froze the store register. Everyone on line had to go somewhere else to check out. Take responsibility. This is a bank problem.”

“Chip technology is going to be everywhere. We are no longer issuing debit cards without chips.”

“Then send me a card with a chip that works. Like test it before sending it to me?”

We went back and forth for a while. They are sending me a new card. With a new chip. Which, presumably, will work. Given that not only did the chip fail, but BOA was unavailable for hours, I bet BOA had a system failure. Since they’ll never tell you what’s really going on, all of this was a smokescreen to avoid having to say “the bank is experiencing server problems.”

Their server problems turned this into the day I took down the machines at Hannaford. Just because I live in a small town, doesn’t mean we don’t have adventures.

I’m probably going to become a local legend.


POSTSCRIPT: Bank Of America’s servers were in fact down pretty much all day yesterday. Not the first time, by any means and very likely, not the last time, either. Why do they persist in lying about it? It doesn’t make the problem go away. Would it really make the situation worse to admit the bank’s servers are being “upgraded” (or whatever they are doing) and tell us our cards aren’t working because they are effectively offline?

IT’S OBVIOUS … ISN’T IT?

It ought to be obvious. If you deluge potential customers or contributors with email, whether imploring them for donations or reminding them of your products, eventually they will run away. Unsubscribe. Detach.

The first time this happened, I had made the near-fatal error of donating $3 to Obama’s 2008 campaign. From that moment on, each day I was buried in fundraising letters from what appeared to be every single member of the Democratic party and their affiliates.

I approved of the causes and at first, I just deleted the extra emails. It seemed the more I deleted, the more arrived. Wave after wave of causes, the DNC, pols in states I’ve never visited, much less lived.

One day I sat down at my computer and began unsubscribing. I continued through the day until finally, none were left. I will never donate again. Note to DNC: Don’t make contributors feel that giving you a bit of money was their worst-ever life decision.

Now, there’s “The New Yorker.” This is a great magazine, one of the very few I still read. The cartoons alone are worth it because  no publication has better cartoons than “The New Yorker.” I even went so far as to subscribe to it. Not only do I get their online stuff and access to their archive, I get the physical, paper magazine. The mailman delivers it.

Yet, every single day, my email is full of subscription offers from the New Yorker, and now, from affiliated news publications. They send me articles — which I mostly read or at least skim. But then, they send me the same articles three more times. I delete them. Followed by half a dozen reminders to subscribe — which I’ve already done. Why do they do this? I feel like I’m under siege by my own troops.

Amazon, from whom I buy a lot of stuff, doesn’t spam me. Nor does LL Bean. Or Audible or Zappos. To these companies, I remain loyal. They treat me as if they value my business and I spread the good word about them.

All of these companies also have great service when things go wrong. They don’t make it difficult to return items. They don’t charge “re-stocking” fees. They deliver quickly at no charge. They stand behind their products and suppliers and if something goes wrong, the customer does not wind up at the short end of the transaction.

This is basic marketing. It boils down to one golden rule for marketing:


Treat your customer the way you’d like to be treated if
you were the customer. 


I should think this would be obvious. As time goes on, I find myself eliminating companies and organizations from my world because they don’t get it.

Obvious, isn’t it?

OBVIOUS | THE DAILY POST

CUSTOMER — EMPHASIS ON — SERVICE

Our internet connection went down today. I figured it was a routine need to reboot the router and modem, which I did. Still no connection. A few more tries … and still no internet. And no telephone, since our telephone is VOIP and won’t function without WiFi.

Finally, I had to face the horrible reality. I had to call Charter, get through their voicemail system, get a human being on the phone. Without the internet, we are isolated. Everything requires WiFi. Our cell signal is weak, unstable, with frequent dropped calls. WiFi is like electricity these days. A necessity, not a luxury.

I did it. I won’t review the whole day except to say I burned through the entire cell phone battery and finally got someone who understood the problem. And then … as inexplicably as the problem arose … it fixed itself. I then had to navigate the system again to tell them to cancel the service call. I should have just let them come.

I have reached the end of my patience with voice mail systems.

It got me thinking about the whole “customer service experience.” They always want you to do a survey after a call, but they never ask the right questions. They want to know how the person you (finally) spoke did. Which is usually fine.

What no one asks is “how hard did we make work to get a live person on the phone?” “How many times you were disconnected?” “Are you mad enough to dump our service at the earliest opportunity?” That last one should matter.

No matter how many times I go through this, I always come out of it tired, cranky, and frustrated.

VOICE MAIL: LET ME CHOOSE WHAT I NEED

Every voice mail system starts out saying “Our options have recently changed.”

Your options have not recently changed. “Recently” is a few days or weeks ago. After that, it’s not recent. Change your message!

If I know the number I need, let me press it. Don’t make me sit there while you explain in stultifying detail every permutation of your voice mail system. Everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not news. I am not stupid. My time is valuable, just like yours. Don’t waste it.

NUMBER 1 – BURY YE NOT THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most customers want. Probably not your address, business hours, website address, or the opportunity to hear about your new services — or take a survey.

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If you are a personal service provider — doctor, dentist, veterinarian, massage therapist, hired assassin — scheduling should be on top. At least half your calls will be people who need to make, change, or cancel (or some combination thereof) an appointment. Don’t send me to a sub menu with more options. Answer the damned phone.

If you are a utility — cell service, telephone company, ISP, power company, water — why do think most people call? Because our service isn’t working. No power, no water, no cell service, no dial tone. No WiFi. No cable. Do not tell me to use the website. If I could get to the website, I would not be calling you.

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Do not force me to spend half an hour listening to a robot tell me to do stuff I’ve already done (and didn’t work), or misunderstand what I’m saying.

Whoever picks up the call must immediately tell me: “Is this a general outage or is it me?”

  1. If the former: When do you expect service to be restored?
  2. If the latter, transfer me to tech support. Don’t ask me to make another call. Don’t give me that damned robot again.

Today’s outage was their issue, but they assured me they didn’t know it. Really? Seriously? You couldn’t ping the line and know there was a problem? You couldn’t figure out that the phone and modem weren’t working from your state-of-the-art central facility?

NUMBER 2 – IT DOESN’T WORK

Option 2 must be Technical Support. Something isn’t working or not working as it ought. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset, angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

NUMBER 3: ABOUT THAT BILL

Option 3: The bill. Which we already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put us into another voice mail system, it will make us angry.

We do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. We want to straighten out what we hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send us to more voice mail or an answering machine — and you don’t return the call immediately — expect to never get your money, or lose our business. I have dropped providers many times and will do it again.

If you annoy me, I will hold a grudge. I am a paying customer. Act like you want my business.

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A CAUTIONARY TALE

I hear so many companies complaining how bad business is. Never do I hear them wonder if their own action or inaction might have something to do with it. Maybe the problem is how badly you treat your customers.

Consider this. Blowing off customers does not endear you to us. If we can, we will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, we will drop you so fast you won’t have a chance to say “Hey wait, I’ve got a deal for you.”

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine (finally) got FIOS as an alternative to Comcast. FIOS was (a bit) more expensive and had a smaller offering. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate Comcast so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone just to be rid of them.”

I feel that way about our cable provider, Charter Communications. They think they are invulnerable because we have no choice, but WiFi based services are coming of age. There are more choices today … and more coming soon. It’s a matter of time. The ill-will you are amassing today will ultimately bury you as it has buried providers before you. The good-will of your customer is your only long-term asset. 

It’s a cautionary tale for corporations who think they “own” the market and the customers.

BE NICE TO US. DON’T BE A STRANGER

Talk to me. Be friendly. Make me feel valued. Calm me down. Avoid throwing gasoline on my fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. That is why I pay you.