Thursday, April 24, 2008

Customer Service Representative : A Triple Oxymoron

So here are three oxymorons:

Customer + Service
Service + Representative
Customer + Representative

I spent the day in automated CSR hell yesterday. I'm really surprised I let it get to me as much as it did... I was ready to seriously hurt somebody; I was also ready to cry my eyes out.

The first dispute? $4.59. Yes, that's four dollars and fifty-nine cents. It's a late-payment charge from Sprint, from February, when their site was down and wouldn't accept my payment. In other words, it was late because of their screwed up website. I called and they said they'd remove the charge. I don't remember the name of the person I talked to because (shame on me) I believed him! Of course he didn't do anything about it.

So it showed up on my March bill. I called again and talked to Alvaro, CSR #422467 (I thought I was smart by asking for his ID No., but in the long run it did me no good.) First of all I thought Alvaro was a nice Hispanic name. This guy was NOT Hispanic. He had a thick eastern accent and to make matters worse our connection was not good (Hint: he's not on our continent!) So I softly shouted my story, word for word, slowly, to try and help him understand my dilemma. This took a long time. He repeated it to me, and it took me a long time to understand him. He assured me it would be taken care of.

I'll give you one nanosecond to guess what happened. Yep: nothing.

So I got a notice on my April bill that told me my account was overdue and I needed to pay the $4.59. By this time I was really mad. By this time $4.59 seemed like liquid gold to me. By this time I would dip those dollars and cents into hot tar and EAT them, rather than hand them over to Sprint.

So yesterday I called and talked to Kelly. She, too, had a very thick accent and sounded like she was at the bottom of a well in Timbuktu. (Side note: I really get a kick out of outsourced CSR's halfway around the globe saying, "This is Barbara Smith, how may I help you today?) Anyway, I went over my story again with "Kelly". Slowly. Pronouncing each word with perfect diction so she would understand me. She put me on hold for a long time. She came back and said, "My supervisor, Maricel, will take care of this for you." I said, "I'd like to talk to her." She said, "She's in a meeting."

Yeah right.

How stupid do you think I am? They were passing me off again! Her only offering was a guarantee that the ever elusive Maricel, who lives God knows where, was going to tap into the system with her magic management powers and finally remove the $4.59. She even told me that I'd get a text message within two hours confirming it. I thought, "I don't want a text message, lady, I want fireworks, I want writing in the sky, I want a PARADE for all the hours I've put in to this freaking $4.59!"

At this point I didn't believe any promises. But what else could I do? I went about my business. After 7 hours passed and I didn't hear anything, I wasn't mad. I was LIVID. I sifted through Sprint's website to find somewhere to email a nasty, nasty letter. And the fact that clicking on "contact us" does not link me to an address, but rather puts me through a series of questions to see if their FAQ can answer it, REALLY pissed me off. As if automated phone systems weren't bad enough.

Breathe, Laura, breathe.

So I fired off a you-are-the-scum-of-the-earth message, telling them that I couldn't wait for my contract to expire, and that they were going to lose a lot of money as a result of this ordeal (because I'm going to take my children with me when I go!)
I was shaking my fist in the air when I hit send. (Okay, not literally, but definitely figuratively.)

Not long after I got a message from "Ricky," whose communication skills were undoubtedly acquired in the school of cut and paste. And after the canned, "We're so sorry" message, he said, "I am happy to assist you with this matter. But I do not see where you were charged a late fee for March or April."

At that moment I wanted to personally hunt him down - even if I had to buy a plane ticket to Nepal - so I could throttle him. You know those dolls whose eyes bug out when you squeeze them? Yeah...

I wrote "Ricky" another response, outlining AGAIN that it was a carryover from February. I numbered the items. I capitalized the words I would've strongly emphasized if I were talking to him. I waved my arms around, crossed my eyes, said ten "Hail Mary's," and turned around three times while I clicked my heels together.

And then I sent it.

And while sitting in front of my computer in a daze I had a thought. On a whim, I consulted the cyber-god that I suspected may be able to finally help solve my problem.


Within minutes I had stumbled upon a blog of another guy who had had the same sucky experiences with Sprint, and right there in front of me - like an epiphany rising from the computer screen - were the email addresses of the top Sprint executives. I felt like I had just stumbled upon some sacred code, a treasure that Indiana Jones himself could not have found.

So I copied my email from Ricky, pasted it in a new email, and wrote at the top: "This is what is happening on the shop floor. Does anyone care??" I fired it off to about 6 or 7 executives. Within two hours (I sent this at night, mind you) I had a personal email from Jerry Adriano, Vice President of Customer Experience. He said he'd have someone get in touch with me today, apologized for the mess, and signed it "Jerry." No automated form letter. No prepackaged let-me-get-rid-of-this-person response. A real person. A real person in the United States, who probably spoke good English and had a decent phone connection. Wow! Jerry - where have you BEEN all my life?

For the sake of brevity (ha! What's that?) I'll condense the rest of the story. I got an email today from a guy named Steven Shoecraft. He said to call him and gave me his phone number along with a case number. When I got him on the line he apologized. Again. And then he made a shocking admission:

"We are well aware that our Customer Service is a mess."

I wanted to feign surprise, but I restrained myself.

So... Sprint KNOWS their customer service problems are legion.

The $4.59 has been removed," he continued. "That's IT??" I said. He told me he could see how frustrating it must have been and assured me they were working on the problem. "That does nothing for me," I said nicely, but dryly. I told him that taking up hours of my time, leaving me at the mercy of CSR hell, and then brushing me off with a "sorry" was not only unjust, it was just plain bad business. I told him they should compensate me somehow.

He said, "I don't know how to quantify your time and frustration."

I said, "Steven, how much do you make an hour? I have spent at least FIVE HOURS trying to get someone to listen to me over $4.59. The least you can do is give me a month or two of free service."

And just like that, he took off all of my charges for this month. I should've said two or three months.

And then he gave me his direct line and said that if I ever have any other problems like this I can call him and he will personally take care of things for me.

So, there you have it. That is ONE of my customer service nightmares from yesterday. I'll spare you the details of my Bank of America and Quicken sagas (which were also snarly.)

So will I stay with Sprint when my contract expires in October of this year? I'm not making any decisions today. Even though I'd love to stick it to "the man" (remember that commercial?) by giving my money to one of their competitors, somewhere deep down I know that Cingular, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are no different. The term "Customer Service Representative" will, on some level, always be a triple oxymoron no matter who my cell carrier is.

Besides, now I have Steven's phone number.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A separate space

So, I’ve felt conflicted about writing extensively on the blog that’s linked to my website. It’s mainly a place to display my recent photography work, and posting some of my poems and musings just didn’t seem like a good idea. That’s why I now have a separate blog for my writing. Since I completed my creative writing class Thursday night I’ll start with a couple of poems I wrote recently.
And from there?
Who knows?

The Secret
I am the air of success
oxygen deluxe
a card-carrying marvel.
I’m richer
and dead.

I am the king of the suburban
caste system
one leg brashly climbing
over another;
the haves and the have-nots shimmying
up ladders
elbowing past others
bragging and shoving
parading money (or kids) down
the runway
like a taped-up
beauty pageant contestant who is certain
to win.

I am a best seller
an epic
whom everyone has read
a fiction account
of how you wish your life
could be.

I’m a number one hit
a catchy tune
that everyone’s humming.
I am the flying colors
That everyone passes with.

I am a grand slam
the winning point.
I am the 10th inning
of a nail-biting game
and you
are on the edge of your seat.

I am Easy Street
a long lane of luxury
you wish you had the money
and the guts
to stroll down.

Are you an art dealer?
A PhD?
Don’t bother applying
if you don’t have the credentials.
You may stand outside, though
gazing from afar,
marveling at the power
I brandish
like a make-believe musket.

Nostrils flared
chin raised
eyes narrowed and set
I picked my team.
I have posted the list
on the locker room door
and your name is nowhere
to be found.

The brushes
swirl and twirl
turn and churn
blotting our lives in strokes
impossible to understand.
Some are stout and bold
others wispy, like a single strand
of hair swept up
in a capricious wind.
It’s a gradual becoming,
light and color melding
in hues of deep sorrow
unimaginable joy
in an extraordinary blast
of splendor.
Every canvas has a jagged edge
a crown to wear
a cross to bear
a hungry hope that we do matter
after all.
These lines can’t be traced
sloppy patches of indigo and auburn
striking the page
like a hammer pounds a nail
like a whisper
that rolls softly
into your ear.

Sometimes it’s a thick mess
a story with no rhyme or reason
mostly treason.
It’s a debit card that
allows you passage
to whatever is next
toward whatever is behind the wood and cloth
the great mystery of disarmed time.
We are incandescent flies
buzzing around the earth
looking for ointment to land in
somewhere we can make our mark
exchanging our days
for a chance
one opportunity
to take our place in the sun
and beat down
on this terrestrial template.
What is your plate
your matrix
the imprint of you
the world needs to see?
How many will be signed and numbered
before you take your place
in the recycle bin
nourishing the earth
with your matter
what matters
to you.