The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

“I don’t get why this is so fucking difficult.” That was the gist of my daughter’s text message to me last Saturday morning.

What was it that was so fucking difficult? A new transmitter for her diabetes monitor still had not shipped and without the transmitter the monitor was just useless hardware. Monitors can give the diabetic real time glucose numbers to help regulate blood sugar levels without spikes. Without the monitor my daughter’s blood sugars were all over the place and she was getting up every night to take in some sugars to compensate for a low or she was stressing over spikes; stress that exacerbates spiking glucose levels.

Two weeks of the customer service runaround; two weeks of calls being passed from CSR’s to supervisors to supervisors of supervisors and two weeks of the almost always required inordinate amount of time on hold. Promises made, promises broken; the “it should ship anytime now” song and dance. The request had been entered into the system but the transmitter hadn’t shipped and nobody had an answer for the all important question, why? Why was it so fucking difficult?

On reading her text I called her up, she was crying; frustration and some fear of what this was doing to her health. We talked it out. It was mostly her wanting to vent. She does that at times. Calls dad and lets loose. Hey, at least I serve some purpose – right?

I offered my help. Would she like me to call the company? Given that I’m retired I have all the time in the world to be put on interminable hold. As a former purchasing agent it used to be part of my job to unstick a stuck shipment. She thanked me but said she’d handle it, “I just needed to vent.”.
“Okay, let me know if you change your mind.”

By Monday morning she’d still not received shipping confirmation so later that afternoon I decided to make a phonecall. As with many American companies, this one outsourced its customer service, this time to the Philippines. During our conversation Jessica had said, “They’re in the Philippines or India or wherever and they just don’t care.”

Outsourcing is a major issue with me. We have people right here in America who need work and American companies are sending jobs 6000 miles away so that they can get cheap labor and reward CEOs with obscene salaries and keep the shareholders happy.

The conversation started out cordially enough.
“Why hasn’t the transmitter shipped?”
“When will it ship?”
“What’s causing the delay?”
She didn’t have an answer for any of that and we were doing fine up until she made the mistake of giving me the stock customer service response; the patronizing boilerplate that’s apparently in every corporate training manual, from Amazon to Zazzle; those four words of phony empathy meant to placate the fuming customer, “I understand your frustration.”
It was the spark that detonated the explosion.
“No, no, no, no, no,” I said, “I don’t wanna hear that. Unless you have a child who’s been struggling with diabetes for 20 years and can’t get the equipment she needs to control it then you don’t understand, so just spare me your understanding. We’re not talking about a video game from Amazon. This is vital medical equipment.”

We went around and around and after determining that this was going nowhere I asked for a supervisor who offered me her understanding at which point I asked for her name and to be transferred to her supervisor.

I was on hold for a good 20 minutes, during which time I scoured the internet for a phone number to the company’s U.S office. A U.S. number was nowhere to be found on the company website. This isn’t a rarity. It seems to be a growing trend that corporate wants to keep customers safely at arm’s distance. They wouldn’t deign to be bothered by those folks who keep the corporate lights burning.

Customer service is either outsourced or worse, as if there is a worse, customers are sometimes forced to resort to the “forums,” those often worthless gulags set up by tech companies so people with technical difficulties can hash it all out among themselves. After a deep dive into the internet I found a number for the company’s U.S headquarters and I hung up on the Philippines.

As always happens a live person didn’t answer the phone. Live people answering corporate lines are as archaic as rotary phones. Why give a person a job when you can get by with a machine? The corporate nabob will stand in front of his employees at the annual state of the company address and at some point tell them some version of “Our employees, YOU, are our most valuable asset,” when in truth employees are a necessary and expensive evil that corporate would rather do without. After all, people call in sick, they take vacations, they want raises, they make unsolicited suggestions and they want to be treated with dignity while any self-respecting machine can get by with none of that.

The automated “operator” went through a list of options. The seventh and final option was supposed to connect me to the U.S operator. I hit 7 and was told by another automated operator something to the effect of it not being a valid option and I was disconnected. That just about exhausted whatever shred of patience I had left and sent my blood pressure to heights never before achieved.

And so it was back to the Philippines and despite my now maniacal state of mind I vowed that I wouldn’t let the call degenerate as the prior one had. The CSR pulled up a summary of my previous call on her screen. It probably said something about “American asshole.” I’ve no doubt that as she scanned the summary of the call she must have blanched.

“Why is this so hard?” I asked, “just get it shipped.”
“It’s the system,” she answered.
“No, no. I don’t want to hear that. Systems can be bypassed.”
She started to protest that her hands were tied but I cut her off,
“Clearly you have a phone. Does your shipping department have a phone?”
“Of course, but…” I cut her off again.
“No, of course they have a phone. All you have to do is get on the phone and call shipping and get this shipped and then after you’ve done that I want my daughter to receive a tracking number by email.”
She continued to protest that the system wouldn’t allow it and I continued to cut her off and tell her that systems can always be bypassed.
“This needs to get done,” I told her, “because if it isn’t I’m going to write letters to Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris. Those names might not be familiar to you but they are U.S. Senators and they are always interested in matters of our broken healthcare system. I’m also going to send letters to the local newspapers and the TV stations. I’m going to hand deliver all of them and explain them to the receptionists. I’m retired so I have all the time in the world. I’m going to make it my mission to make your employer famous, and not in a good way.”
We went around and around a bit more and then, finally, she told me that she would see what she could do.
“I – want – a – tracking – number – sent – to – my – daughter.”
“I don’t have one,” she protested.
“Of course you don’t, but you will shortly after we get off of this call.”

That all took place on Monday. Tuesday afternoon the transmitter arrived via overnight shipment. The label had been generated about an hour after I’d hung up the phone.

Why was this “so fucking difficult?”

The CSR who blamed it on the system was probably correct. This is just a guess but it was probably the company’s enterprise resource planning software (ERP) that hamstrung the CSR’s. It’s my feeling that by and large corporate doesn’t want the rank and file making decisions. They would prefer laborers to be unthinking automatons and the way to go about that is to restrict the lowly CSR from being able to override a system. Take an order and enter it – fine. Check status on an order – okay. Change an order, bypass the system and satisfy the customer on your own initiative – oh hell no.

Why so fucking difficult? How many times do we get on the phone with a customer service agent and hear, “I can’t, the system won’t let me.”? God forbid that a customer service rep would actually be given the authority to give the customer the service he/she is entitled to. Instead, it has to be escalated to someone who has the keys; the gatekeeper who might have to mull over whether an override might result in a next day ass chewing.

I ran into just that sort of situation dealing with American Airlines a few months ago. Because of my wife’s sudden illness we had to leave Maine sooner than expected and I was told that I couldn’t transfer the ticket value of my original reservation because the tickets had been bought with miles. I would have to buy new tickets. Fine I purchased tickets to fly out of Portland, Maine. The situation turned into an utter fiasco when we got to the Portland, Maine airport and found that the AA ticketing agent had booked us out of Portland, Oregon rather than Portland, Maine.

When we got home, and while my wife was in the hospital I asked for my miles to be put back. I was told that the system wouldn’t allow that and I would have to satisfy myself with a credit that would be valid only until March of 2020. Luckily I was dealing with an agent who was on my side but the problem was that she didn’t have the authority to override the system and replace my miles. She escalated it to her immediate supervisor who refused my request and so the agent escalated it further up the chain. She didn’t have to do that. She could just as easily told me that her manager declined to return my miles. She might have been risking an ass chewing by the supervisor she’d bypassed. In the end I got my miles back but it was only after hours on the phone and a bit of luck that I was connected to someone who had a sympathetic ear.

Why so fucking difficult? At my last workplace I saw CSR’s struggle with a system that was so bolixed and mismanaged that a successful shipment to a customer was a cause for celebration. Instead of being allowed to do the right thing by the customer, CSR’s had to get management approval to mollify unhappy customers (You know, the ones who ultimately keep the lights on?)

Why so fucking difficult? Because overriding “the system” might make the spreadsheets look bad. Initiative, resourcefulness and ingenuity aren’t always compatible with spreadsheets. That last workplace? It was being run by the tyranny of the spreadsheet and the ones who suffered for it were the CSR’s and the customers. One coworker compared it to a clown car and I doubt that’s changed much.

And so in the end my daughter got her transmitter. It was fucking difficult because I had to put three people through the wringer until someone probably said, “This is too fucking difficult, fuck the system and lets get it done.” My daughter hadn’t wanted to get nasty about it, bless her heart. Me, I’m a dad who long ago got fed up with corporate bullshit.

Why indeed does it have to be so fucking difficult?

4 thoughts on “Why Does It Have To Be So Difficult?

  1. Jane Fritz says:

    OMG, Paulie, this is so dead on. Your message needs to be shouted from the rooftops! 🤯😡😥

    Good work, Dad!

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Jane. I don’t know about the rooftops but I was doing some shouting into my phone.

  2. mistermuse says:

    Absolutely on the money. I (and no doubt hundreds of thousands of others) have experienced something similar. Pardon my getting political, but in November we need put a Democrat in the White House and enough Democrats in the Senate and Congress to gain and retain control, respectively. The we need to keep the pressure on them to make these corporations do what they will never do as long as Trump and the GOP are in power: be held accountable for the way they should treat their customers — namely, like fellow human beings.

    1. Paulie says:

      Actually getting political is appropriate. Consumer rights, labor rights have been marginalized in favor of business and corporations starting in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. Trump has dropped all pretense and gone all in. It’s going to take a long slog to get back what we’ve lost. I might not even see it in my lifetime.
      Thank you for commenting.

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