Not much ‘service’ in customer service

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Feature

I have spent the past two mornings tilting at windmills.

“There will be a brief hold while I locate my supervisor…”

It seems I must throw on my best Don Quixote mantle fairly regularly these days. Fighting with “customer service” representatives is falling to my plate at alarming frequency. I even had a tiff with my bank this morning. They changed a long-held policy of automatically transferring money from checking to savings if I forget which account has money in it and make a payment out of the other one.

Yes, they let me know about the change, and I am usually pretty big on accepting my personal responsibility to keep up with things. But they send me reams of useless stuff – buy a new car, consolidate my loans, get this credit card and get a million useless points, etc. So, I guess I didn’t notice this one. And it was “several years ago,” according to the customer service rep who had the misfortune of getting my call in her rotation this morning.

I say “misfortune” without apology, because I am always very polite to the customer service representatives, as long as they are nice to me. Even when I know I have exhausted their realm of help, I try to give them polite “outs.”

“Thank you, John. You have been very helpful, but I think we have come to the end of what you can do for me, and I would like to talk to your supervisor.”

“Yes, John. I understand your policy, and you have explained it very well, but I would like to speak to your supervisor about this incident.”

“Of course, I know a brief hold will be necessary…”

“Brief holds” and “unexplained disconnects” are the golden tickets of customer service. That’s where they hit Sherri Quixote. I will hold for days, and I always, always call back.

I have the advantage of having something productive I can do while their terrible music drones on through the speaker phone. I load the dishwasher, wash a load of clothes, fill out invoices, browse through emails, jot down an idea or two for upcoming columns, check airfare prices for upcoming trips, etc. If I am home alone, it’s even better. The music drives my husband crazy. He once offered me the $8 refund I was fighting over in cash if I would just hang up.

That doesn’t work. It is seldom about the money. In order to channel Job’s patience, I must have Don Quixote’s conviction and a healthy dose of righteous indignation.

I don’t always win. My epic fail was with Dell Computers.

It would take more room than even the internet has to explain the circumstances, but, briefly: New computer for grandson never worked. Sent for repairs to authorized Dell dealer. They put in a new wireless card, damaging the computer case in the process. Still didn’t work. Said no refund because refunds must be claimed within 30 days of purchase. Unfortunately, computer was bought as Christmas present, so the refund was void before the box was opened.

The problem for consumers is that Dell does a good job of switching you around to different departments. I was on the phone with tech services for 3 hours and 36 minutes. That was followed with 2 hours and 28 minutes with “customer care.” Since then, I have spent several more hours with their Twitter and Social Media customer representatives.

In the end, I gave up. My daughter-in-law will probably send the computer in and see if they can fix it, but they won’t be able to repair the cracks and scratches they inflicted the first time they tried. I wanted a full refund so we could go buy him another computer.

By the way, even my best investigative journalistic skills could not come up with a phone number for the CEO of Dell Computers or anyone in corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas. I have a friend who works there, but I didn’t want to get him fired.

I am still waiting to hear from my bank that they refunded the overdraft charges. I feel confident they will do the right thing.

If not, my lance and shield are shined and ready. Sancho Panza, also known as my faithful dog, Lexi, who will lie at my feet for the hour-long fights, is ready for battle.


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