Left Coast / Right Coast: Bureaucracy – Customer Service Hell

Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

Okay, this week I thought I’d write about a subject we are all familiar with. I call it Customer Service Hell.

Let’s start with call centers. God help you if you have to call any public service company. Here in our region, that includes Comcast, Fred Meyer stores (Kroger), the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Bank of America (really any bank), and your health insurance company.

We happen to have a “triple play” of Comcast services. They include landline telephone, cable tv, and Internet Service.

As I recall, we had to set up the service when we first moved into our new home (Spring 2014). We received boxes of “stuff” with only our intuitive feelings for how to hook everything up. You could pay extra and get a Comcast Service Technician to some to your house – but that was an additional couple hundred dollars – which seemed expensive.

Okay, so we got our router/modem hooked up, and the house was pre-wired for Cat 5 Internet Service (today, you’d not have to do this, instead just using wireless connectivity). So once we got the configuration correct, everything else was “relatively easy.

During this process, I had occasion to need to speak to someone for telephone help. That’s where one enters Customer Service Hell. When they answer, you get a recording that says: a. “We will record this call for making improvements to our service,”  b.“You will be asked to complete a survey after your call – to tell us how we did,” and c. “We are experiencing an unusually heavy call volume so you will be put on hold and your call will be answered by the next available representative.” Then you get to listen to commercials from the supplier, interrupted every 30 seconds or so by the repetition of “heavy call volume.

Thankfully some of these call centers give you the option of them calling you back. I’ve tried this every chance I get and it is much more pleasant than hanging onto the phone call until they answer.

I always ask: “Where are you located” to see where the call center is. I’ve never, so far, gotten a call center located in Seattle. They are all in “other places,” sometimes over-seas.

Next, very often the “call center rep” speaks in English as a second language. This is becoming more frequent. I would guess that fifty percent of the time I simply can’t understand the person and have to ask for someone else who can speak English more clearly. I am always afraid that I’m going to offend the person on the phone – but remember, I AM THE CUSTOMER.

Next - language. You are always asked, “If you wish to speak in Spanish, press 8 (ocho), otherwise press 7 for English" or sometimes, "Just remain on the line for English.” So far I’ve not been asked about any other second language (thank God).

Any bank: We happen to deal with perhaps the largest Bank Chain in the U.S.. I’ve sometimes had to be transferred as many as four times to finally get someone who can help me. Each “transfer” can take minutes. So you can be on the phone for 30 minutes (or more) to get the first person that can help you.

Then the worst of bureaucracy takes over. For example, with our health insurance, if you wish to make any change to your coverage, or speak with someone about a claim, if it is for your spouse, you can only do this (they will only talk with you about the spouse) if the spouse first gets on the phone and “authorizes” you to speak for them. I’ve wondered each time this takes place, how the service company actually knows it is your spouse who gets on the phone.

If you can get a supervisor on the phone, they will tell you that all the hoops you have to jump through are “to guarantee your privacy and security.”

In view of the recent security breaches by Equifax and just today, Uber, I laugh every time I am told, “We wish to bring you the best customer service.”

I’ll save my final comment for the Registry of Motor Vehicles.  Simply the worst moment is when you have to take a number from a machine. Then you look at the “current number being serviced” and then your own number. Then you agonize over how slowly they go through the numbers. I always bring my Kindle with me so I have reading material while I wait an hour or more to do something that could be accomplished in 30 seconds.

One common denominator with all these bureaucracies is that the “average” customer service rep is only “programmed” to handle the “routine” things. If you are one millimeter outside the “normal” items, you then get to wait in a second line until a supervisor is available. This is totally understandable, as the service provider sets up their support line to handle as many calls/hour as possible and to pay as little as possible to the phone reps. However, boy do I get mad!


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