Customer Disservice

Customer Service 2


Last week, I wrote about the art of twisting words for advertising. This week, I want to write about the art of language in customer service or, in many cases, the lack there of.

Most people in their 40s or older, I’m sure would agree that customer service has devolved over the years. With the invention of recorded messages, holds, phone menus and transfers, the customer is no longer treated with respect or, for that matter, as a human being.

On the phone, we are routinely bounce around and expected to be patient during the process because, we are “a valued customer.” Even in person, we are asked to be understanding as we are bumped from department to department and instructed, like children, to wait patiently before we are allowed to give them our money.

But, what gets me is that we, as customers, accept the abuse and are looked upon as deviants and an annoyance should we dare to complain. The customer service people always have a way of explaining how we, the customer, are wrong and how we need to be more tolerant, especially when they are understaffed – which always seems to be the case these days. I love, for instance, how company phone recordings state that they are “experiencing unusually high call volume” every time I happen to phone in.

Just this week, I walked into a storefront of a large phone company to ask about starting service with them. For at least 10 minutes, I tried to get a representative to answer my questions. But, even though they have been busy, they directed me to someone else. Once I got to the right person and started waiting until he finished with the person before me, the representative did not even glance at me to acknowledge that I was in the right place or that he would be right with me. So, I stepped away to ask another representative who wasn’t busy. Anyway, they ended up skipping over me and were annoyed that I was not standing in the right place, to begin with. The fact that I threatened to leave could not have mattered less to them, so I did. I mean, how dare I not know or follow (their) company procedures, right?

What makes it worse, however and as I get back to my point, is how language is perverted into an Orwellian-type of double talk to place blame on the customer. With a few surviving exceptions, the customer is usually blamed for their service issues.

In fact, just to wrap things up for this posting, I used to work in a customer service phone center for a major airline from 1989 to 2004. At the beginning of my tenure, we were trained to do all possible to help each caller and that the customer was always right. During just those 15 years, the direction from management had changed to “get the caller off your line as quickly as possible to take the next call.”


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