The ‘good old days’ of customer service

Published 8:52 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

My wife is mad at the company that sold her employer the computer with which she spends more of her waking time than she spends with me.

Sherry could not get Microsoft Outlook to run on her computer. Nor could she get the speakers that came with it to work.

Finally despairing of dealing with those issues by herself, she did the logical thing: she dialed the “customer service” number provided by the computer manufacturer.

After the phone rang a time or two, Sherry was greeted by one of the machines with which we all have become far too familiar and she went through the opening routine with which we all have also become all too familiar. She pushed a number on her telephone keypad to indicate that she would prefer to speak English as she dealt with her problem.

That, in and of itself, Sherry finds offensive. She is of the opinion that if you live in this country, that should not be a choice you have to make. Sherry does not deal well with political correctness.

Eventually, though, she made her way through the computer company’s electronic maze and got to the point where the electronic voice asked her to provide a code of some sort to identify her specific computer.

But, off the top of her head, Sherry did not know that number, which was something like EQZ127Adj1435794DOG123CAT456UPSIDEDOWN47JASTERISK90974J.

“If you do not know your magic number,” (and I’m paraphrasing a little bit there, but not much), “you may say,” the machine told Sherry, “’I do not know my magic number’ or ‘I do not have my magic number’ or ‘My magic number is not available.”

Sherry, by now beginning to be a little irritated, told the machine she did not know the magic number, only she included a couple of expletives.

(Expletives are words that include but are not limited to “gee whiz” or “golly.”)

The machine then set about telling her where she could find the magic number.

“First,” it said, “go get a screwdriver and remove the case from your computer. After you have done that, remove the power supply fan and then remove the power supply, being careful to first ground the machine to avoid static electric discharge and possible death or dismemberment. Then gently but firmly remove the ‘Mother Board,’ not to be confused with the ‘Sister Board’ or the ‘Brother Board’ or the ‘Nephew Board’ or the ‘Father Board.’ Below the ‘Mother Board’ you will see a long row of very, very small numbers in Chinese. If you cannot read Chinese, please hang up and place your call again, this time choosing Option 742D, ‘I do not read Chinese.’”

(Again, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but not much.)

Sherry tried hard to jump through all the computer company’s hoops.

Eventually something she did resulted in her actually talking to a real, live human being.

The human being, though, after some conversation, decided she could not help Sherry. Instead, she told Sherry, “I’m going to transfer you to the Small Business customer service representative.”

After the transfer, Sherry heard, “Thank you for calling the automated Small Business customer service help line. For English, please press 72. For Spanish, please press 1. For French, please press 2. For Portuguese, please press 3. For Ecuadorian, please press 4…”

She hung up.

I don’t know if she ever solved the two problems or not. I was afraid to ask.

Some of us – not many – remember when customer service really was customer service. We remember when companies took pride in their products and worked hard to ensure that you were satisfied with them. We remember when, if you called such a company, you talked with a real person who spoke the caller’s language and even lived on the same continent.

My parents used to refer to the “good old days.” I guess, in retrospect, the days before machines took over the customer service responsibilities once held by real people were those “good old days.”

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.