By Tom Joyce
September 14, 2013
One good thing about The Mount Airy News is that you can call our offices during normal business hours and actually have a real person answer the telephone.
Unfortunately, you can’t say the same thing about many major corporations and even smaller businesses nowadays. They will run advertisements about how they are there to meet all your needs and deliver quality products and services — anything except talk to you on the telephone.
This past week I hit the trifecta in this regard, running into major headaches while trying to access three different entities for what should have been simple tasks.
The first time was when I tried to set up a payment plan with the finance division of a major automaker I won’t identify here, except to say that it starts with “N.”
I initially had attempted to do this by logging into the corporation’s website, but kept getting a message that a communications problem had occurred and I should try again later. Finally, after several failed attempts, I elected to call N’s toll-free customer service number, and found the “communications problem” was just beginning.
After several rings, I heard a recorded voice saying that “all our customer service representatives are busy, but please continue to hold and the next available one will take your call in the order it was received.”
Not only did no one answer in a timely manner, the same recorded message kept blaring every 30 seconds or so — as if I didn’t hear it the first 10 times.
After an eternity, I finally got a live human being on the line who then argued with me for another five minutes over the fact that my telephone number did not match the number in the company’s records.
Eventually, this bozo figured out that my work number was on file and grasped the fact that a person can indeed have both a work and home telephone. And after I further supplied my Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and a blood sample, he finally asked what I needed.
But as it turned out, he couldn’t fix the problem and said I would need to talk to someone who handles the company’s website. So I was put on hold again, and — you guessed it — had to listen to the same recorded voice.
I finally just hung up, which is probably what the big friendly corporation there to meet all your needs was counting on in the first place.
My second debacle with the telephone came the next day at work when I tried to contact someone with the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation for details on its expanded bus service to Mount Airy.
I dialed the number listed for PART and talked to a man who did the old Sgt. Schultz routine from “Hogan’s Heroes,” saying he “knew nothing” about the situation.
He advised me to call another number, actually supplying the names of two other human beings from whom I should request the desired information. After dialing, I encountered one of those phone systems that gives you a bunch of choices for reaching certain departments, such as “1 for operations,” “2 for route information,” “3 to jump off a cliff,” etc.
Not knowing exactly where the two people I was trying to find worked, I used the option of dialing zero to reach an operator at any time. And guess what? No one answered.
I then thought to myself that if PART runs its transportation operation as it does its telephone system, I don’t think I want to ride one of its buses.
The icing on the cake came toward the end of the week when I tried to make my monthly payment to Time Warner Cable by telephone.
They have one of those systems in which a woman with a pleasant voice answers, but it is actually automated. She first says, “tell me in a few words what you are calling about.”
Then after you tell her, she claims she doesn’t understand, and you must keep repeating the same thing to get anywhere. What’s really irritating is that this woman, although automated, seems to laughing under her breath the whole time — as if the lack of ability to communicate were my fault.
I have a news flash for this gal: Nobody likes a smart-aleck robot.
Such experiences make me think many businesses just don’t understand the value of good old customer service anymore. Being able to converse with a real person is worth its weight in gold, especially when you have a problem, and compels me to patronize those truly offering warm and friendly service.
I know talking to the public can sometimes be frustrating in itself, but that’s part of doing business. If a company is reluctant to do so, why not just shut the doors?
However, I did exact a measure of revenge this week when contacted by a telemarketer — from Time Warner Cable no less.
“All family members are currently busy,” I responded in my most robot-like voice to the young woman who had called. “Please stay on the line for the next-available family member who can take your call.”
Needless to say, she wasn’t amused.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.