Wanted: Real customer service

Dear Annie: Am I the only one who feels that life is too complicated these days and I feel absolutely powerless when it comes to calling a big company to get service? I am old enough to remember the days when we bought a television, put it in the car, drove home, plugged it in, played with the “rabbit ears” for a minute and then were able to watch TV.

Today, when you buy a television, it is a major project. If it’s a big-screen TV, someone usually has to deliver it, and then you need to make an appointment with an installer. It always takes much longer to install than they plan.

Then there is the cable company. I waited for over an hour for the cable guy to arrive. After working on the TV for more than an hour, he said he had the wrong parts and box and needed to go back to his office to get new supplies.

Two hours later, the man returned and, after another hour, finally got everything set up.

I appreciate the television quality and choice of channels are a million times better than the days of rabbit ears, but I’m frustrated feeling powerlessness if something goes wrong. They have one recording after another, push this button or that, stay on hold for 20 minutes, and then maybe, if you are lucky, you will be able to talk to a live human.

The airlines are the same way. I remember when I would call an airline, someone would answer the phone, book my flight and we would both be on our way. Now, in the “new and improved” society, there is never any personal customer service. Everything is automated and impersonal.

While we have had improvements, we have had regression in terms of customer service and personal attention.

I started writing this letter out of frustration with our cable company, but the more that I wrote, the angrier I got in thinking about how impersonal business has become. You always are the voice of common sense, and I’m wondering if you have any suggestions. — Helpless and Powerless

Dear Helpless and Powerless: Help is on the way, and it is coming in the shape of you discovering your own power. While you might not have the power to fix your television immediately, you do have the power to change perspective. Time without TV can sometimes be a nice break.

However, I agree with you that automated “customer service” is a contradiction in terms, though it has become common practice today. Customer service should be all about the customer feeling respected and heard. You are not alone in your frustrations.

We have seen many incredible advances because of modern technology, but the same cannot be said about typical customer service. Imagine if a company could offer the efficiencies of modern improvements with Marshall Field’s old maxim from more than a century ago, “The customer is always right.” The companies that can manage both are the ones that will emerge as victors in the future.

(Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com. This column is syndicated by Creators Syndicate columnists. Visit the website at www.creators.com.)


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