Customer No Service

It’s the stuff frustration is made of: You have trouble with your internet, and try as you might to troubleshoot the problem, you have to make the inevitable call for service.

So you listen to the all the options because the menu has recently changed. You risk dialing zero in the hopes of talking to a real person, but the phone system kicks you out, and you have to call back and listen to all the menu options again. When someone finally answers, you discover you really need to talk to someone in a different department, and you’re on hold for 20 minutes while you should be cooking supper and washing a load if towels and ten thousand other things. When you finally talk to someone qualified to send a refresh signal to your router, nothing happens. Still no internet. So they schedule a technician to come out between noon and 5:00 P.M. the next day (when you already have a doctor’s appointment, but you also have to have the internet, so what can you do?). You stay home all day. The technician calls at 5:00 to say he’s running late (you could have gone to the doctor after all), and when he finally shows up, he tells you your modem was hooked up in a place that never should have gotten service (even though it worked fine for two years), but he, the almighty technician, can fix it, so he does, and after he leaves, you have spotty service, at best, and – surprise! – you get charged an extra $80 on your next bill.

Granted, it’s not just internet, phone, cable, and satellite providers who suffer from what Clark Howard calls customer no service, although they often seem the biggest culprits. Ever since I’ve been thinking about making this a blog topic, an inordinate number of examples have popped up, from me discovering my cable company misinformed me about the cost of our new service, to a friend missing her flight because the gate was closed 18 minutes early, to another friend visiting a doctor with great hopes of finally figuring out what’s wrong with her body, only for her new doctor to treat her like she’s crazy.

It’s sad that although we dread these customer no service encounters, we’ve come to expect them. It’s almost as if it’s a prerequisite for the big companies – which makes the companies with good service stand out as the exceptions. Companies are so big that there are no individuals anymore. And I would imagine that this can be just as demeaning for the people who work there as the ones who need service.

But since when did this extend to doctors – the people we trust to take care of us? Where will it stop? I could joke and say that one day parents will start ignoring their kids – until they get annoying enough that the parents finally give in and say, “What do you want?” But wait – it’s already like that. Not for everyone, of course, but anywhere you find people, you will see that service and care no longer come first on the list.

Like my friend, I’ve also had a negative experience with a doctor. (Well, I’ve had several, but I’ll just talk about the most recent.) After an annual exam, my physician asked the standard, “Do you have any other concerns?” I have the feeling it’s a question like, “How are you?” – we ask out of politeness, expecting the answer to be, “Just fine” or “Doing great.” If it’s anything that causes concern, we really don’t want to hear it. And this time, I told my doctor that I did have concerns. She couldn’t make sense of any of my symptoms, told me I might be gaining weight while exercising and cutting back on carbs because of my age (I was 31 at the time), and finally dismissed me by ordering bloodwork (make it the lab’s problem). I received a cheerful phone call from a nurse a few weeks later. Wasn’t it great? My bloodwork was totally normal. Then why don’t I feel normal? I wondered. But I knew of a doctor of Oriental medicine from my church, and I had the hope that she would listen, that she wouldn’t just order some bloodwork and send me out of her office.

As soon as I walked in the door for my first appointment, she had my bloodwork in hand and told me that I did, in fact, have a problem. She wanted to hear about all of my symptoms, even the ones that seemed unrelated. When I asked her how my doctor could have missed all the signs, she said that most doctors work within a much larger range. For my particular problem – hypothyroidism – many people who should be treated aren’t because they fall within an artificially wide “normal” range. Most practitioners simply don’t have the time to sit down and discuss symptoms and solutions with their patients. They wait until the symptoms are much more severe, then prescribe whatever pill will solve the problem and get their patients out the door.

This is where I wax nostalgic about the good old days when towns had one doctor who knew everyone by his or her first name and, therefore, actually cared. Now, of course, I know I’m being unfair. Those doctors had hard lives. And so did the merchants and farmers and everyone else, but it seems that they took more pride in what they did. It wasn’t just a paycheck but a calling. They cared about their reputations, yes, but they also cared about the people they served. I think this could be a big reason why the “go local” movement has become popular. We can have one-on-one interactions directly with the people who make the goods or provide the services. They have a stake in their occupations, and they actually care about the end users, not just the profit.

It all comes down, I think, to relationships. There are too many people with problems, whether they be slow internet or a malfunctioning thyroid, and too few people who care about solving them. I think both sides can share some of the blame, but it’s especially sad when we no longer treat each other like humans. It’s called customer service, not customer hassling, right? One of Merriam Webster’s many definitions of “serve” is “to give the service and respect due.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all receive just a little respect? Maybe what’s wrong with so many people is that they’ve lived so long without respect that they care more about a paycheck or whatever game they’re playing in their lonely cubicle than the person who just needs help, who maybe also needs a little TLC.

In this digital age, where we keep up with friends via internet or text, and we’ve lost a lot of the human touch, I think that some of these “archaic” values are more important than ever. Instant connectivity is certainly convenient, but it can also isolate us. In my own interactions, it helps to remember that people aren’t just lists of names and phone numbers. They have problems and dreams just like me. It’s a good thing to remember when we interact with complete strangers, especially when we’re tempted to slip and forget what it means to be of service.