I recently spent what felt like an eternity in what would certainly have been Dante’s 10th circle of hell if he’d ever had to call customer service. I had two admittedly first world, but immensely pesky, issues that need resolving.
- Bloomingdale’s had sent the wedding gift that I ordered for my niece Julie from her bridal registry to a different bride-to-be named Emily.
- Someone at SUNY Buffalo, who went to lower Manhattan for Spring Break according to their coffee bean trail, was treating themselves to even more copious amounts of Starbucks than I do, using my cool guy gold card. Without my knowledge or permission.
In order to get through to a surly humanoid when I called, I had to jump through infinite hoops of phone tree hell. These systems seem only to connect me to an actual person just seconds before I decide to throw my phone to the ground and stomp on it like a tempestuous two year old.
Even though I’d keyed in everything short of my blood type infinity + 1 times, I still had to explain who I was before I told the entire story to the only marginally interested representatives. In both cases, four times on four separate calls, making an annoying, disconcerting total of eight calls. Totaling about five hours of my life I can never get back.
“I’m sorry that you had that experience. You must be frustrated. It would be my pleasure to help you resolve this problem,” they both lied as they read from the Bloomingdale’s/Starbucks script on their computer screens. After which they made me explain the dilemmas at least three more times before throwing up every roadblock they could to reach an actual solution. They explained that:
- They could no longer help me and that it was my niece’s problem, and she’d have to call an equally apathetic bridal registry representative (Bloomingdale’s), and…
- They’d connect me to a supervisor and then promptly disconnected our call (Starbucks).
Both situations remain stuck in purgatorial limbo. I have no hopes of ever seeing a credit from Bloomingdale’s or a replacement card from Starbucks. I compare these negative experiences with the ones I have at companies like Nordstrom and Amazon. Say what you will about particularly the latter behemoth, but they make my life easier. Not harder. Not more frustrating. They resolve problems almost before you know you have them or can explain them to cheerful, enthusiastic, helpful real people. They make returns easy and snafus disappear. Give you credit when things go awry. Wash your car. Massage your back. Okay, maybe not those last two, but they do empower their employees to just make things right, so that I feel, after speaking with them, as happy as I do when I get a good haircut. Granting intelligent employees this level of autonomy and agency makes them feel more engaged in their work and creates loyal customers. It’s a win-win that Bloomingdale’s and Starbucks just don’t seem to get.
Photo by Diane Lowman