Monday, August 31, 2009

Customer Service

I would like to say right off that I have been called abstruse and obtuse, verbose and vague, erudite and recondite, eccentric and elliptical, prolix and elliptical, meandering and tangential, indirect and evasive, and just plain weird. I cannot in all honesty say these things, because I can recall only perhaps 75% of them being said by someone other than myself. Do I tergiversate my thumb at thee? I do tergiversate. However, my wordy ways netted me my first (and so far only) comment to this blog, as well as a handsome check for a large sum of reality, in the form of that comment's meaningful criticism of my prose.

The comment said nothing about my words, style, 'presentation', or strangled syntax. ("Is that sentence still breathing? Crush its modal verb!") It was a straightforward message from a certain Liam, who works at in some undefined capacity. Liam's import was clear and direct: He had read about my woes with the aforementioned site (don't forget these are my words you're reading now; you can read his words in the comments section of the blog post I'm going to reference three sentences further down the page), and wanted to help me resolve those problems. He even posted his email address into the comment so I could contact him directly. However, my only 'problem' with that was that I had no problems; in fact, my original post was supposed to have been about my joy at finding my earlier issues resolved whilst I was sleeping. So I learned – and I'm sure Liam wouldn't have told me to my face, even if he had noticed how difficult my prose made his life – but I learned nonetheless that my writing was not clear, did not convey its message in the lucid prose it has always been my dream to write. Ah, me! You can read the original post, "Man never Is, but always To be blest", here. (I do not count the interjections, and the independent clauses joined by a semicolon count as only one sentence.)I fear that clarity may always remain an Impossible Dream for me, but I don't see myself moving towards greater perspicuity any time soon…

So what is my point? Well, as an illustration of how cocked up my 'style' is, let me start by saying that I bought a cell phone this weekend. (And not by saying that I have 'style' the way that we all have a 'diet' – that is, you're stuck with whatever you've got.) I was uncertain whether I would purchase the phone in the AT&T store, or whether I would return to the Interwebs where I had done my research before going to the hard copy. What sold me on the phone, the service plan, and the various accoutrements, was the engaging salesman Chris who helped my daughter and me.
Chris answered every question, no matter how silly, and his command of his products was excellent, and he even admitted to ignorance when he had to look something up or just didn't know the answer. (I know some may think this is the definition of ignorance, but I believe many salespeople use a different, 'better', secret definition, for most either say anything for the sale, or project the ignorance onto the customer – "You mean you've never used a KVMP?" they'll say with an arched eyebrow. "It's so much better than the old KVMs…" looking disdainfully to the heavens.) But perhaps the most elevated part of our discourse came when I told him, after he'd offered to show me how I could save even more with AT&T's U-verse bundle, that I wasn't going to buy it but that he should feel free to give me his spiel; he didn't change his tone, didn't rush through his presentation of information, and actually seemed to relish his job all the more. Now, I worked retail for 12 years; I would have shown myself the door. But now I actually find myself investigating a switch to U-verse (high marks from Consumer Reports), all because I was treated like a human being. I'll go further: because I was treated to a human being.

So much of our daily lives is spent as cogs in various 21st-century machinae ex deo, and perhaps the worst is the consumer machine. We are told – somewhat justly – that our strongest power comes as Consumers, that we can shake the seemingly careless industry titans by deigning to boycott Whole Foods because we don't like the political opinions of one of their executives, by refusing to buy products for any number of other worthy motives; however, the actual practice of being a Consumer entails a deadening monotony of enervating interactions with people 'just trying to do their job' while we 'just try to do our shopping'. When consumerism metastasized into the doctor's office, and we became 'smart shoppers' of medical care, perhaps some less harried among us noticed the change on the other end of the stethoscope; no more does the doctor have time to really listen and communicate with her patients, because she has to 'budget her time', and some wonder whither went the house call, the bedside manner, and the simple calm conviction of medical practitioners that helped as many as any drugs or procedures ever did.
I'm thinking about all this because the next day, my wife had to make some complicated travel arrangements. Of course, like many in the past decade, we have not made a reservation through a human being in quite some time. But out of necessity – and of course after researching options on the Interwebs – she called Delta Airlines directly, and talked with Kay.

Kay turned out to be like Liam, like Chris: very helpful, attentive, knowledgeable, and – most important – very human. She spent quite a while getting all our arrangements together, and even bent over backwards to merge my multiple SkyMiles accounts, all the while talking with my wife as if she, too, were an actual person. My wife talked about the experience for some time afterwards, and I recounted my pleasurable jaunt to the phone store, and I realized that I needed to send kudos out to Liam for his efforts to make things right – as well as to correct any misapprehension on the part of my reader. I'm sure my prolix prose has somehow managed to miss my point again – I'm certain I had one when I started – but I hope that somewhere something good is coming for Liam, Chris, and Kay. They truly deserve it.

Thank you, Kay, Chris, and Liam – thank you for being humans in situations where it is easier to do otherwise. Thanks as well for your clear, patient answers to all of our questions. I hope I can learn to be more like you when I grow up.

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