Customer Service?  Just Another Quaint Relic of an Earlier Era

    One of the saddest and most frustrating aspect of the takeover of this nation by Corporate America is the absolutely abysmal level of what was once charmingly referred to as "customer service".  In a now long ago era, companies realized that the quickest way to get and retain customers was to treat each of them in exactly the manner that any normal person would expect.

    Way back then, companies offered free telephone assistance for their products, reasoning that the company was there for the customer's business and never the other way around.  800 numbers were always to be found in the documentation that was packed in with the product and personnel were available at any time to help you to learn how to properly operate your new purchase.  In fact, there was a time, before the world elected a senile old washed up actor who led the nation into the abyss of conservative greed and idiocy, that companies proudly compared their level of customer service with that offered by other companies in their fields.

    Well, that was long ago and in another era, one which I despair of ever again seeing in this nation or in the appalling "Global Economy".  Now, companies provide the absolute lowest level of service that they believe is required an expect the customer to either become used to this avariciousness or to just give up on ever finding needed support and throw the product out and go looking for another replacement that may or may not work, either.

    In just this last week, I have been confronted with three instances in which three different companies demonstrated just how absolutely repulsive they view any effort to offer their customers any assistance or support at all.

    The immediate problem I was experiencing was a deteriorating level of phone service in that it was taking longer and longer to be able to connect to my ISP through a number of local, toll-free numbers.  Once connected, I found that I could only stay connected for a few minutes at a time before the connection was inexplicitly dropped.

    My ISP told me that their servers were working fine.  I decided to test my laptop's modem in other locations going through other switching stations around my local area.  Granted, I live ten miles away from the nearest telephone switching facility but the lines have allowed me access or nearly ten years so I just assumed that any communications company would be happy to help me by replacing my current links with some offering a clearer signal.

    As an aside, I am forced to use the most inefficient phone providers in the nation out here where I live.  In 1983, it was Contel, arguably the lowest common denominator in the industry.  They were bought out by the only phone company on earth that was actually worse than Contel, itself, GTE.  Well, a few years ago, a leading consumer magazine surveyed their subscribers about various products and services that the subscribers used.  The result of that survey showed that, of all of the phone companies in the nation, GTE ranked absolutely last in nearly every customer satisfaction area that was polled.  Now, you might ask yourself, wouldn't such astounding news force a corporation like GTE into taking a long, hard look at the multitude of problems that were uncovered in this survey?  Well, what good old GTE decided to do was to retain every low and nonexistent benchmark that the survey had exposed as the poorest in the nation and, instead, hired an actor with a deep voice to be its spokesman and then changed its name to Verizon.  Obviously, in the year 2001, actually offering your customers a decent level of service is trumped by the notion that just changing your name is all that is needed to change your image.

    That said, my phone service provider is that same silly little Verizon.  Since it was pretty obvious that the connection problems was with my phone line and the noise that it carried, I called Verizon's 611 repair number.  I reported to the nice lady who took my call that I would like Verizon to fix my phone line so that my modem could communicate with my IP's servers in order that I could use the Internet for the vast range of services that it offers.  The lady asked me if I could hear any static on the line at the moment?  I said that, yes, there was a slight hum or something in the background.  She then asked me if I could understand and hear her as we spoke?  When I stated the obvious that, of course I could hear her, she stated that Verizon was only required to offer phone lines over which two people could carry on a conversation.  If there was so much static that the conversation could not be conducted, then, and only then, would Verizon consider the problem important enough to attempt a repair.

    So, what this means is that your local phone company refuses to offer any level of decent service above and beyond the absolute lowest level that they can attain.  Nothing more will be offered, period.

    So, finding myself at the mercy of such inane and useless people (never meaning the actual human beings that one does talk to - people just doing a job to pay the rent and with no power to change any policy - but rather the scum that somehow infests the executive suites at corporations like Verizon) I decided that there was nothing I could do to make Verizon into a decent, consumer oriented.

    I have heard that newer modems have been designed that can function even on crappy, noisy lines offered by Verizon.  I took myself off to a nearby (well, 45 miles one way) store that sells electronic equipment as well as such everyday needs as staples.  I looked to one of their employees for assistance in choosing the best external modem for my needs.  Quickly discovering that knowledge about the products his employer sold, as well as an amazing inability to use words longer than one syllable, I decided to settle on a modem made by Zoom Telephonics.

    I took my new little purchase home, removed it from the box, and prepared to get back to my virtual existence.  When it wouldn't function as expected, I searched through the "manual" enclosed (one page written on one side) for a technical support number.  All I could find was a web address which, when one thinks about it, is a pretty stupid thing to offer when what you are selling is a modem (think about it).

    I called the 800# operator who couldn't find any listing whatsoever for Zoom Telephonics.  I looked at the paperwork again and found that their corporate headquarters were in Boston, Mass.  I called information to get their number only to discover that the only way to contact technical support was to call them directly, a call that costs the customer.  Not only that, but they offer such limited hours that tech support is available only during the most expensive hours of the day and never on weekends.

    I finally found a way to get onto the Internet and went directly to their web site.  The difficulty of moving through their site aside, I finally found the support pages.  There was a page that allowed one to send off  question directly to tech people.  I went into great detail concerning the problems I was experiencing as well as detailed information concerning my operating system and the like.  When the message was sent, a page came up the promised that all mail is answered in one business day or less.  Five days later I received an "answer" that consisted of a list of questions that I had already answered in my original post.

    Now, what this culminates in is the fact that, first, Zoom Telephonics cares so little about their customers that they force the customer to pay the toll charges needed to get the companies poorly designed products to work.  Second, with such limited hours that tech support is available, it exposes their inability to understand that not all customers have the option of calling during the work day and might, in fact, find themselves in the employment line should they try to do so.  Finally, it shows that whatever passes for tech support will not read the messages in as much as just about every question that they asked had already been answered in the first message to them.

    Okay, I think to myself, Zoom Telephonics is just a great example of the depths that some corporations have allowed themselves to descend into.  Not all corporations could have become such greedy, anti-consumer organizations.  I figured that I would ask my other computer nerd friends and get a tally as to what brand they, themselves, use.  U.S. Robotics was the clear winner and a number of people even claimed that this brand would work even over truly degraded telephone lines.

    So, back to the store that sells electronic equipment and staples to purchase a modem from U.S. Robotics.  It was tad more expensive than the Zoom junk but I knew it would be worth it of I could just get back to the Internet without the associated problems I'd been facing for the last few months.

    I came back and happily unpacked the equipment, ran the driver installation as the instructions said, then began to put the system together.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one very important component was not to be found.  The system needed a serial cable in order to connect the unit to the computer.   I looked all over the box and the instruction to see where that wee piece of information may have been found and finally found it on the box, hidden among a list of electronic information in 3 or 4 point type.

    Now why, I have to ask, would any company sell a product that absolutely required a particular part and then not include that part?  Just how expensive would this piece be when bought in quantity?  And why, if the unit is totally useless without the part, isn't the need for it displayed a bit more prominently and in a bit more overt area of the box?

    So, what have we learned from this long and rambling tale of this writer's woes?  We've learned that Corporate America has decided that the customer matters only until the final Ka'ching of the cash register.  Past that point, they could not possibly care less about your happiness or satisfaction since anywhere else you turn for help, you are faced with just another tentacle of the greasy, greedy, uncaring Global Corporation reality.  We've learned that the suits in the suites happily treat the customer like cogs in their global machinery and worry not at all of ever having to answer for their contemptible practices since the only people you can ever speak to are just working men and women just like you.  Getting angry at them won't solve the problem.  It will only drag down the day of another working stiff who has zip to say about the policies dreamed up by these bozos in the offices with windows but who have to explain them to frustrated customers.

    This is the future of business, folks.  You are becoming less and less important once you hand over the money.  In fact, corporate "thinking" has decided that you and I are stupid enough to spend our own money every time their products are defective or parts are missing.  Apparently, they're right.

    Oh, a wee addition to this tale.  I figured that I would go ahead and get the blasted missing cable so I called the store that sells staples and asked what time they opened the next day, a Sunday.  The lady very pleasantly answered that the store opened at 9 AM seven days a week and repeated it when I sounded surprised at the idea of any store opening that early on a Sunday.

   So, I go on down, having set the alarm to be there in time and still have enough leeway to get back to work 45 miles away.  In case you haven't already figured out the punch line to this story, I arrived at nine only to discover that the store opened at 10 AM on Sunday.  The salesmen had no idea what kind of cable a RS252 was and it took three different employees to figure out how to uncover that information and sell it to me.  

    This should be a timely reminder to anyone who owns or manages a retail business of the most basic reason for offering the highest possible level of service to your customers; when you please a customer they will tell one or two friends.  When you piss off a customer, they will tell everyone they know.

    I'll let you know how it all turns out.



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