Column
December 4, 2018

Customer service – people and manners

By Mary Ellen Shaw

I don’t know about you but if you are old enough to be called a “senior” you probably miss dealing with “real people” when you have business to transact. Face-to-face will always be my preferred way of doing things. But when the place of business isn’t local you are forced to use the phone if you want to talk to an actual human being.

Dialing a business number and reaching a person seems to be a rare occurrence these days. You usually need to take Option 1, 2, etc. before you have any chance of human conversation. Then you may be asked to key in a password or PIN. Once you hear a real person’s voice you hope you have reached someone who knows what he or she is talking about.

Sometimes you can avoid answering a barrage of canned questions by saying the word “representative” early on. This seems to cause enough confusion in the automated system to pass you through to an actual human being, although I am finding that works less and less. They must be onto me!

One place I called greeted me with these words: “All representatives are busy now, please call back later, goodbye!” Really???

Often the person you reach couldn’t care less about the problem you want solved. I didn’t know it at the time, but I got the best lesson ever in how to treat a customer when I was a service representative for New England Telephone back in the 70s.

We answered the phone using either “Miss” or “Mrs.” and our last name. Those were formal times! Since I wasn’t married when I began working there, I started each call with the words, “This is Miss Whalen. How may I help you?” We asked the person’s name and if he or she needed to be place “on hold” we called him or her by name when we returned to the line. We always thanked the caller for waiting.

Boy, are those days gone!

The last place I expect to reach an automated answering device is a doctor’s office. But it happens. They have covered all their bases by telling you immediately to hang up and dial 911 if it’s an emergency! At times I am thrown off by reaching a real person but am quickly brought back to the reality of today’s world when I am told that my call will be transferred to a specific person and then … no person, just voicemail!

You have probably noticed that when you call a place to a business you are often given the “hold time” which can be 15 minutes or longer. Of course, you are advised that you can place an order “instantly” online and have no “hold time” at all. Call me old fashioned, but I like to talk to a person. So I will either read my book or do a crossword puzzle while I wait. They won’t wear me down!

At a recent craft show I ran into a woman who used to wait on me when I did the banking for my employer. (That would be you, Nicole!) We talked about the decline of face-to-face contact in banking these days as well as other types of business.

I am retired now but when I do my own banking, I go inside to make a deposit or withdraw money. No ATM for me! I am a perfect example of job security for bank tellers. As long as they are there, I will be at their windows!

The craziest example of poor customer service was when I called the phone number listed on a medical bill that had an error. To resolve the issue I was told to have Medicare place a three-way call to the company with me on the line. I thought that sounded too easy but I tried.

Of course, Medicare doesn’t make outgoing calls and neither did the representative who worked for the billing company. So I asked myself, “How do I get these two entities to talk to one another?”

Much to my dismay I solved the dilemma by using my computer. I went to the “Contact Us” section of the bill and emailed the provider about my dilemma. A caring person called me the next morning and told me the bill was sent in error and I would be getting a refund.

I am still perfectly capable of fighting my own battles but if we live long enough the day will come when that isn’t possible. The fact that I figured out the error and the “professionals” missed it is somewhat disturbing.

No doubt finances are the reason for having computers and machines do what people always did. But in this world which is becoming more and more digitally connected, talking to a person as soon as a phone is answered is a pleasure.

I am still waiting for that refund check but I now have a name and a phone number if it doesn’t arrive soon. To quote the words on TV for an area car dealer, “You gotta’ have faith!”

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