Monday, August 1, 2016

Technically Speaking by Sharon Lurie

© 2016 David's Harp and Pen

Mood:  Angrily Confused
DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the names, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear any moaning and groaning from the customer service/technical support community claiming I am making them look bad.  I assure you that you don’t need my help to do that.

There are many times in life when one questions reality, the meaning of life, and everything one has been taught to be true.  In the last year, those times have never been as frequent and intense as when I am dealing with customer service or technical support.

For example, I had to call a government office about a governmental matter.  They had no online support, and though they had a website that listed a telephone number, nowhere did the website list the times the call line was open.  I called and was on hold for upwards of 90 minutes, listening to some cheesy elevator music interspersed with a recording of some friendly government employee saying how important my telephone call was to her, and someone would be with me shortly.  The call was eventually dropped, and so I determined to try in the morning.

I called again the next day, and only waited an hour before someone answered.  I asked the representative what their call center hours were, and was told they were from 10:30 AM-2:30 PM Monday through Friday.  I had called the day before at 3.

I said, “Why don’t you have your call center hours listed on your website?  And when I called after hours yesterday, I didn’t get any message saying what your hours were, nor was I given an option to leave a message.  I waited on hold for 90 minutes for nothing.  Why doesn’t your hold message say what the call center hours are?”

The representative replied, “Why would we do that?”  Then we both had a hearty laugh while I changed my political affiliation to Libertarian.

Then there was the time I called a lienholder for a copy of a statement of my account, only to be told over the telephone that the terms of my loan repayment had been drastically changed, and not in my favor.  I said to the account representative, “I’ve not received any notice of any changes.   I’ve not gotten anything in the mail.”

The representative replied, “Oh, we wouldn’t notify you ahead of time about that.”  Again, the representative and I had a good chuckle as I decided to check out the Facebook page for one of those groups that protests greed and capitalism while taking selfies on high-end smartphones and drinking $50 lattés.

Another favorite was when I paid my cellular telephone bill, and though I had proof of such, my cellular carrier at the time claimed at first they had no record of the payment, and were about to suspend my service.  I got through to a customer service representative, who then informed me that they had “received” my payment, but it wasn’t “posted” to my account, which could take anywhere from 24 to 1,795,245 hours, and even though they had my payment, my service could still be shut off, and I would then have to pay extra to have it restored.  Even though I’d paid it on time.  And had proof.  Therefore, I did what is usually advised in such a situation.  I asked to speak to a supervisor.

“No, I won’t do that,” the customer service representative answered.  “A supervisor won’t tell you anything different than what I said.”

“But you admit you received my payment on time, yet you’re still threatening to suspend my service and assess a late fee to my account.  That’s not right.  Why won’t you let me speak to a supervisor?” I asked.

“Because it’s a safety issue.”

“A safety issue?”

“Yes.  We only have a few supervisors, and if I call one over here to speak to you, that means that one won’t be available for the other reps, and that would put us all at risk.”

I listened dumbfounded as I tried to figure out how simply asking for a supervisor about my payment turned into a threat to national security.

I think one of the most frustrating things about the state of customer service and technical support these days is that when companies make decisions that will ultimately have a negative effect on the customer, they try to spin it by saying the policy change, price increase, or what have you is in order to “serve you better.”

Like how, when my credit union notified us members they were going to start closing at 5 p.m. each day instead of 6 p.m., they said it was in order to serve us better.  How is closing an hour earlier, when most people don’t get off work until 5 p.m. and struggle to make it in traffic to the credit union by 6 p.m. as it is, serving the members better?

Then there was the time when my wireless provider, whom I shall refer to as “Horizon,” got rid of their $30/month unlimited data plan and replaced it with two gigabytes of data a month for $30.  Many customers were upset about the change, so much so that the change made the news.

I had to go to the wireless store for something else, so I decided to ask the technical support guy why they got rid of the unlimited data plan.

“Well, Miss Lurie,” he replied, “we here at Horizon strive to be the best of America’s wireless service providers, staying on the cutting edge of innovation and customer service.  We terminated our unlimited data plans in order to serve you better.”

I asked, “But how is going from unlimited data down to two gigabytes serving me better?”

“Well, we found that none of our customers were using up the unlimited data.”

“But, how could we if it were unlimited?  Doesn’t unlimited, by its very definition, mean it can’t be used up?”

“True, but we found that only 2% of our customers were going over two gigabytes of data per month.”

“But people don’t want to have to keep track of their data usage.  That’s a lot harder than trying to keep track of how many minutes of calls or how many text messages someone’s sent or received.  How is making your customers have to track their data usage serving them better?”

“Well, all the other major carriers are getting rid of their unlimited data plans, too.”

“Yeah, but you just said you’re the innovator and leader among wireless carriers.  Now you want to be just like the others?  If they all jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?”

“Okay, do you want to know the real reason?”

“Do tell.”

“When we introduced the 4G network, it kept crashing because it couldn’t handle the traffic.  There are customers who spend all day on their phones doing data-intensive tasks like streaming music and video chat, and that caused so many network outages that we decided to cap the unlimited data to discourage folks from running the wireless internet all day on their phones.  Once we build up the network, we’ll probably bring the unlimited plans back.”

“Okay, well that makes sense.  The network is new and it needs tweaking.  I can understand that and respect that.  Why didn’t you just tell your customers that to begin with?”

“In order to serve you better.”

As you can tell, I, like many others, have had some doozies of bad customer service experiences.  However, the one I had in the last year was the Mother of All Doozies.

I recently changed from another wireless carrier back to Horizon.  I purchased from them a tablet for work, made by a company I shall refer to as “Hamstrung.”  As soon as the return period had ended on the tablet, it began having problems staying connected to wi-fi.  I took it to several different wi-fi hotspots to see if the problem was with my wi-fi at home.  It wouldn’t stay connected anywhere.  I called Horizon technical support, who told me the usual:  restart it, perform a hard reset, call them if it didn’t help, lather, rinse, repeat.  I did all that, and it didn’t help.

I then took the tablet to one of the Horizon stores to have one of their technicians look at it.  I explained to him everything that was going on, so he connected it to the store’s wi-fi.  We waited thirty minutes, and would you believe the wi-fi connection on the tablet didn’t drop once?  I felt a bit foolish, and the technician suggested the problem may have been with the wi-fi hotspots I was using.  I told him I had been to nine.  He then said my best bet was to let Hamstrung deal with is, as the tablet had a one-year manufacturer warranty.

I called Hamstrung technical support, and they said to take it to “Big Box,” a chain of electronic stores, as each one had a Hamstrung kiosk with Hamstrung technicians.  I called my local Big Box to ask them when the Hamstrung kiosk was open.  I was told 10 AM-9 PM.  I then asked if there was a certain time to come in that was better than another.  They said that any time was good and technicians were always there during those hours.

I arrived at Big Box at 4 PM, and there were no Hamstrung technicians.  I asked at the front counter where they were, and the door greeter said, “Oh, they’re all at lunch now.  I’m not sure when they’ll be back.”

While a bit miffed, I chalked it up to a miscommunication on the telephone and waited another 30 minutes for the Hamstrung technicians to return.  When they did, again, they tried to say the problem was with all nine wi-fi hotspots I’d been using and not with their tablet.  When I told them that was a statistical improbability, they offered to perform a software update, which in no way fixed the problem.  The Hamstrung technicians at Big Box then said there was nothing more they could do and I would have to call Hamstrung for further instructions.

I called Hamstrung and spoke with a nice gentleman who sounded about 20 years old and had a Valley Boy accent.  I told him my tablature tale of woe, and he, along with the rest of Hamstrungia, said the problem had to be with the nine wi-fi hotspots I’d been using.  I told him that couldn’t be true, so then he suggested the problem was “operator error.”  I told him that couldn’t be true, either, as I had successfully connected my Hemorrhoid smartphone and Macintosh computer to all nine wi-fi hotspots without incident.

“Since your device is out of warranty, Miss Lurie, I’m afraid there is nothing more we can do,” the telephone guy said.

“But it’s not out of warranty.  I only bought it six months ago,” I responded.

“Do you have your proof of purchase?”  he asked.  I replied in the affirmative.  He instructed me on where to send it.

“Once we receive it, I’ll activate a service ticket for your tablet, and you can either ship it to us or take it one of our service centers,” he said.

“Do you have any service centers in Tennessee?” I asked.  He checked his system and told me they didn’t.

“I’m going to New Jersey in a few days, and I’ll be there for over two weeks.  Do you have any service centers there?”  I asked.

“Yes we do,” he answered.  Silence.

“Where in New Jersey?” I asked.

“25 Broadway,” he answered.

“Which city?” I asked.

“I don’t understand the question.”

“Which city in New Jersey?”

“I’m not following you.”

“Sir, New Jersey is a state.”

“I’m still not following you.”

“New Jersey is a state.  There are many cities in New Jersey.  Many of them have streets called Broadway.  In which city in the State of New Jersey is the Hamstrung Service Center at 25 Broadway located?”

“I am afraid I can’t be of assistance to you, Miss Lurie.  I’m going to have to escalate your request.”

I called one of my cousins, who still lives in New Jersey, when I got off the telephone.

“Has New Jersey been downgraded from state to city, like Pluto got downgraded from planet to asteroid or whatever it’s classified as now?”  I asked.

My cousin asked, “Sharon, have you been standing too close to the air purifier again?”

I ended up sending the tablet into Hamstrung’s repair facility.  They sent it back, saying they had no problems keeping it connected to wi-fi, and that the problem must be all the wi-fi hotspots in Nashville, Tennessee, along with “operator error.”

My work was being affected, as the tablet wasn’t reliable.  I couldn’t return it to Horizon because the return period had passed.  At this point, I was starting to question my mental state.  I was starting to think I really was the problem.  I was also questioning everything I’d learned in high school geography.

Upon its return, I took the tablet to two new wi-fi hotspots, to which it also couldn’t stay connected, making a grand total of eleven.  I called Hamstrung again, and they declared that all the wi-fi hotspots in The People’s Republic of Nashville must be out of whack.

I decided as a last ditch effort to return to Big Box so I could deal with Hamstrung face to face.  I called the store again and spoke to a very nice technician who listened to my plight and said, “Oh, I know what the problem is.  There’s a setting in your tablet’s biosphere which, when the setting is on, causes it to disconnect from wi-fi if it senses a disturbance in The Force.  Just bring it to the store, and I can infiltrate the biosphere and turn that setting off.”

“Oh, wonderful!  I answered.  I can bring it in tomorrow.  Is there a certain time I should stop by?”

“Nope.  Someone will be here all day.  Stop by any time.”

I stopped by the next day, and no one was there.  I asked the door greeter where the Hamstrung technicians were, and she said she didn’t know.

At this point, I was livid.  I exclaimed, “I called yesterday and spoke with one of them.  I asked him when to stop by, and he said any time was good.  I’ve already wasted enough time trying to get this tablet to work!”

The door greeter answered, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we don’t know where the one on duty is.  He left for his lunch break almost 90 minutes ago.”

“You can’t get him on the phone?”

“He doesn’t have a phone.”

“The technician for a corporation who gets 72% of its revenue from the sale of mobile telephones doesn’t have one?”

“I know, right?”

I began to feel the capillaries throughout my body burst from the frustration of the odyssey that was my tablet’s wi-fi issue.  That’s when HE walked in.

He had a twinkle in his eye.  He had a spring in his step.  He had a beard that could have singlehandedly supplied all of those male hair loss clinics in America from now until Jesus returns.

“I heard you’re looking for me?”  asked the man who, from this time forth and forevermore, shall be known as Hamstrung Hipster Technician (H²T).

I told him about the tablet saga and what the last technician had said about recombobulating my biosphere.

“Well, that would work if Splint was your wireless provider, but your tablet is with Horizon, and that setting doesn’t exist on yours,” H²T explained.

At this point, I thought my head was going to explode.  I had spoken to so many different people, and got so many different stories, as to why my tablet wasn’t functioning properly.  Maybe the problem was Nashville.  Or, maybe the problem was me.  Then, H²T asked me something that changed everything.

“Does your tablet stay connected to Bluetooth?”

I had to think about it.  I had only connected a Bluetooth keyboard to it a few times, and that didn’t stay connected, either, but at the time, I thought the problem was the keyboard, as it had died shortly thereafter.

“Come to think of it, no, my Bluetooth keyboard didn’t stay connected, either,” I answered.

“Well, on these tablets, the Trans-Siberian Orchestrator controls both the Bluetooth and the wi-fi, so if one goes bad, the other one does, too.  Now, I’m just a lowly Hamstrung technician, but if I were you, I would call the 800 number, as there’s only so much a minion like me here at Big Box can do.  Tell them what I said and ask them to elevate your tablet to second level support.”

For the first time since the tablet situation had started, I felt like I was getting somewhere.  I thanked H²T for his suggestion and was about to leave, when I decided to ask him, “Hey, just out of curiosity, how come you don’t carry a cellphone, since you work for a cellphone manufacturer?”

“In order to serve you better,” he answered with a grin.

Most of us display certain physical “ticks” when we’re angry.  Mine is my eyes start blinking at high rates of speed.  I just stood there speechless, unsure if H²T were joking or if he had been serious.

“Whooooaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!” he exclaimed as he stared at me.  “I’ve never seen anyone blink that fast!  Your eyes are like mini wind turbines–with lashes!”

I gathered my tablet and called Hamstrung for the umpteenth time.

The technician on the telephone said, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but your tablet was out of warranty.”

“No, it is not!”  I replied, my voice getting higher as I spoke.

“I’m going to give you my email address.  Would you please send your proof of purchase to me?”  He gave me his email address and I shot of the email while I was on the telephone with him.

“Have you gotten it yet?”  I asked, trying to keep my voice in a decibel that humans could hear.

“Hmmm…okay, Miss Lurie.  I’ve received your proof of purchase, but it can take at least 48 hours to post to our repair request ticket system.”

“I don’t know what this mysterious ‘posting’ is, but I am sure I don’t like it!”  I mumbled under my breath.

“What did you say, Miss Lurie?”

“Nothing.  Just thinking about Pluto.”

After an awkward silence, I told the Hamstrung telephone representative what H²T had said. 

He said, “Miss Lurie, I apologize for the inconvenience you’re experienced.  Here at Hamstrung, we strive for 100% customer satisfaction each and every time.  I’ll create a new support ticket for you and send a prepaid shipping label for you to return your tablet to our repair facility just as soon as your proof of purchase posts.  I have escalated your tablet to our second level support, where we will have someone watch your tablet nonstop for 72 hours, hook it up to our military grade diagnostic equipment, and have our second level support technicians utilize our state of the art Ouija boards in order to diagnose the problem.”

“Thank you,” I answered, feeling both hopeful and scared.

“Thank you for calling Hamstrung.  We appreciate your business.  If you’ll stay on the line for a brief customer service survey, we would appreciate it, as we always want to know how we can serve you better.”

Several thoughts came to mind, but prudently, I kept them all to myself.

I sent my tablet to Hamstrung for the second time.  A few days later, I received an email from them about it, and lo and behold, just as H²T had claimed, the Trans-Siberian Orchestrator was bad and needed to be replaced.  I got the tablet back and am happy to report that it has stayed connected to both Bluetooth and wi-fi.  No, it wasn’t the state of Nashville wi-fi, nor was it operator error.  In other words, it wasn’t me.  I wasn’t crazy.  I was not crazy.  I.  WAS.  NOT.  CRAY-ZEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!

A few weeks later, I had to purchase something at Big Box.  Hamstrung had a big shindig going on to celebrate the release of the Hamstrung Travesty M 7, their newest model Hemorrhoid smartphone/slow cooker/coffee maker.  One of their salesmen approached and asked me if I wanted a demonstration.

“No,” I replied.  “I’ll never purchase another Hamstrung product again.”

“But Hamstrung is the top-rated cellular telephone manufacturer in the world, and we offer a one-year manufacturer warranty and free, award-winning support on all our products,” he said enthusiastically.

Determined to keep my blinking under the state speed limit, I answered, “Thank you, but I firmly believe that psychological warfare is a poor foundation for my relationships with electronics manufacturers.”

It’s also a terrible basis for personal relationships.

About six months ago, I saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Confusion is the first sign of abuse.”  Most of us, when we think of abuse, think of something obvious and overtly aggressive.  We think of insults, violent outbursts, and the ilk, so when abuse comes in clandestine fashion, we often miss it, and for some, it takes months and even years of retrospection to finally identify the dynamics of the relationship for what they really were.  Feeling unsettled, off kilter, wondering constantly where one stands, and beginning to wonder about one’s own sanity should be the first indicators that something is wrong.

We joke about bad customer service experiences, especially when dealing with a large company like Hamstrung, when we have to speak to multitudes of different people about a problem, and each representative gives us a different story.  What about when it’s the same person always giving us a different story?

There were several times when my tablet, in the presence of the Horizon and Hamstrung technicians, was perfectly behaved and stayed connected to wi-fi.  What about that person who acts one way in the presence of outsiders, but is someone completely different, and dare I say difficult and cruel, when behind closed doors?  Then, when we finally attempt to explain the truth to those outsiders, our credibility is called into question.

Or, how about when a business or government agency makes a policy change that adversely affects us and they justify it by saying it’s “serving us better?”  There are also those people who will mistreat us and say they’re doing so for our own good, or that we brought the mistreatment on ourselves, if they even acknowledge they’re mistreating us at all.

I think some of the Hamstrung telephone representatives would’ve rather died than admit something was wrong with my tablet.  They wanted to blame anything and everything except their product.  Abusers do the same thing, shifting blame, and making themselves out to be the victims and painting their prey as the predators.

Love shouldn’t confuse, demean, or devalue.  If we spend the bulk of our time in a relationship doubting our sanity, questioning our value, walking on eggshells, behaving in ways we wouldn’t otherwise, and asking ourselves, “What the heck just happened?” we are not being loved, we are being abused, and the first step to getting well is getting out.

If you have been the victim of or think you have been the victim of psychological abuse, particularly the covert kind, there is help available.  Southlake Christian Counseling and Shannon Thomas offer some wonderful resources for getting started on the journey out of the fog.

You are not alone, and you can’t get safely to the other side alone, either.  We all need a Hamstrung Hipster Technician who knows the questions to ask and in which direction to point us. (Hamstrung Corporation, if you’re listening, H²T needs a raise.  H²T needs a promotion.  And for the love of all that is good and pure, H²T needs time management classes.  Oh, and also a cell phone.)

The End


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