Okay, one complaint: Excellent customer service I can do without

“He shouldn’t have told you that!”

That’s what the customer service representative for the phone company explained to me when I called to ask about the discount I was promised the day we switched our mobile phone service over to the same carrier that provides our home phone service. The move was made, in part, because of the savings mentioned by the sales person at the mobile phone store.

I was not happy to get this news.  I mean, after going to the trouble to make the changes, thinking we were going to save some money, it turns out we were lied to, conned, tricked and deceived.

I need to tell a story about getting phone company service in the by-gone days: Not long after my mom died–this was in the Seventies–I tried to phone Dad every other day. I couldn’t always get through to him. There was something wrong with his phone service when it came to getting long distance calls. Dad said he’d call the phone company and get it working properly, but I don’t think he had the energy to deal with more problems at that moment in life.

So one day when I simply couldn’t reach Dad, I called Mountain Bell information and asked the operator “who’s the president of the company?” She gave me the name and I asked for his phone number. Then I called his home, and when he answered I explained that I was unable to reach my dad due to some problem with his Mountain Bell service. “Would you please see if you can reach him? If you do, please ask him to call me.”

When I answered the phone a few minutes later, my dad’s first words were: “You won’t believe who just called me.”

Incidentally, his phone problems disappeared after that.

Jump ahead to the phone chat with my current phone service provider.

ME: Well, I don’t know if the salesman should or should not have told us what he did. (I kept a check on my temper so that I could reason with the customer service person and get the desired outcome–the discount.) Maybe he should not have told us that. But the point is, that’s what we were told by a representative of your company. We made a decision to use your service based on that statement and I expect you to honor your promise.

(I felt I was expressing a very reasonable position, and I thought my self-control was admirable. Here I was explaining my point of view without raising my voice or allowing the least bit of aggressiveness or hostility to leak into my phone demeanor.  At least, not yet.).

Company Service Rep: Well, we can’t do that sir. I’m sorry. That’s not our policy.

(These are words that seem very measured and businesslike. I sensed that what she wanted to convey was some expression that belongs in the rhetorical family with an idea such as: “How about confusing your Malox bottle with a can of drain cleaner?” or “Maybe you can incur a disabling injury from an accident with your juicer.”)

(And had I used my good judgment I would have ended the conversation so that I could save myself some aggravation, not to mention using my time and energy on more productive pursuits. But there was a point to be made, and I was determined to deliver it.)

ME: Well, how would you like it…(I spoke very slowly, pronounced each word carefully, as if explaining a difficult concept to a third-grader, and hoping, all the while, that this approach would annoy the woman on the other end of the line, as I suggested a scenario in which she made a purchase based on a salesperson’s statement, then found out she’d been manipulated.)

CSR: No, I’m sure I would not like that. And again I apologize that someone told you that you were entitled to a discount. He shouldn’t have said that.

ME: (Throwing good words after bad, about as stupid as putting more money into what has proved a lousy investment, I noted that:) The Japanese shouldn’t have attacked Pearl Harbor, but they did and there were consequences to that. And I don’t think your company can induce people to do business with you by making false statements. The question is how you’re going to rectify that.

(I took advantage of her silence — maybe she was trying to determine if lying to a customer to get the business is the moral [or immoral] equivalent of bombing a large port, sinking battle ships and taking many lives–to bolster my attack.

How many other people have been tricked into doing business with your company this way?

CSR: Gee sir. I don’t know. I hope you’re the only one.

ME: Thank you for the special treatment.

CSR: No sir. I didn’t mean it like that. I mean I hope this is an isolated incident. I hope we don’t do that on a regular basis.

ME: And what happens if you have other customers that signed up for more service because of statements made by your representatives, but those statements are not true? What happens then?

(Maybe taking a different approach would bring a different result. I knew she had some powers to waive fees or convert us to a better plan at the same price we were paying–at least for a month or two.)

CSR: I hope that other customers haven’t been told things that are wrong by any of our representatives.

ME: That’s how you’d deal with this problem? You hope it isn’t happening on a regular basis? That’s your solution, if people are victims of the same, dishonest practice?

CSR: That’s right sir. I hope other customers haven’t had that happen to them.

ME: Well, hope is a nice sentiment, but it’s a lousy business strategy.” (If I wasn’t going to get any money out of the deal, at least I’d get the satisfaction of occupying the higher moral ground.)

CSR: Well, do you want me to report this to somebody? I can tell my supervisor.

ME: What is your supervisor going to do?”

CSR: Hold on please, I’m going to switch you to my supervisor.

She was gone–and glad of it, I’m sure–before I had time to share any more of my knowledge or intelligent perspective on the situation.

In place of the representative’s voice, I heard a dumbed-down rendition of a John Williams movie theme–one I never liked anyway–with a “musical” treatment related to the original score in the same way a plastic apple is related to actual fruit.

I hung up after waiting, in vain, for a chance to talk to the supervisor. What prompted me to click off was the recorded message asking me to stay on the line at the end of my conversation with the company’s representative so I could “answer a few questions about your experience with our excellent customer service.”

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