Shouldn't customer service help the customer?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller use this space to offer their views on everyday issues.

SHE SAID: Please tell me what is so difficult about a cheeseburger with pickles only. I have given up on getting what I want at fast food drive-through windows. After several failed attempts at simple requests now I just say, "I'd like a cheeseburger with pickles only." Occasionally, I'll get a cheeseburger with no pickles or a burger with pickles and no cheese.

Lately, the Millers' dissatisfaction with customer service has extended well beyond fast food. Delivery services for example. I think you know who you are, Mr. We-Deliver-When-It's-Convenient-For-Us-And-Expect-You-To-Take-Off-Half-A-Day-Of-Work-Instead-Of-Just-Delivering-After-2 p.m.-When-You're-Going-To-Be-Home-Anyway.

The representatives did offer to let me pick up the package myself at their local office. If I could haul an 11-foot-long rug myself, I wouldn't need a delivery service. Thanks a lot.

For those folks who can't stand listening to us rant and rave in this space every week, sorry. If you don't like it, don't read it. And giving up fast food is probably not such a bad idea. Now all I need is a semi so I no longer have to rely on delivery services. How 'bout it, hon?

HE SAID: When I worked in the retail business many years ago, I was taught you don't tell the customer where items are, you escort them to the merchandise. It was drilled into our heads that our customers were our bosses, and it is with that mentality now that I bemoan what is called customer service these days.

Let us start with my brother. He's a hard-working kid; you may know him as a cart pusher at a major retailer or as Jackson High School's most passionate fan. I know him as a brother who needs a little help now and again because of a learning disability that makes it difficult for him to communicate with the public.

One Sunday, I went to my brother's apartment because his satellite dish wasn't working. After checking connections, I called the "customer service" line. After fumbling through an automated robot I finally got a live person, a woman with a thick accent I couldn't always understand. When I finally got to make arrangements for someone with the satellite company to repair his service, I was told they could have someone at his apartment between 8 a.m. and noon on a Monday.

The conversation went something like this:

"But my brother works on Monday," I said.

"Well, we can have someone there between noon and 5 p.m."

"Well, that doesn't help. It's still half a workday. Can you give me a more precise time so he doesn't have to miss so much time, and I can have someone else here?"

"We can't do that, sir. I am sorry for the inconvenience, sir."

"You don't understand. Four hours of lost work will cost my brother a tenth of his weekly wages."

"I am sorry for the inconvenience, sir."

"This is horrible customer service. You mentioned earlier that there will be a repair fee?"

"Yes, sir, $37."

"Thirty-seven dollars?"

"Yes sir."

"So, let me get this straight. Because YOUR equipment is malfunctioning, you're going to force my brother to miss up to half a day's wages and you're going to charge him $37 on top of that?"

"Yes sir, sorry for the inconven--"

"This is unbelievable. My gosh, this is the kind of service I'd expect from the cable company."

"I'm really sorry, sir."

I finally arranged for the satellite repair guy to come on my brother's day off, meaning he went two more days without being able to watch his television. Meanwhile, my angry father called them back and got them to drop the service fee.

Anytime I have to dial a toll-free number these days, I brace for a fight at the other end of the line. The good news is, my cute and talented wife has shown me tips over the years on how to handle such arguments. Still, logic never wins out when you're dealing with heavy accents and big companies.

Callie Clark Miller is the special publications managing editor for the Southeast Missourian. Bob Miller is Southeast Missourian managing editor. Reach them at and

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