Monday, June 28, 2010

Dialing For Your Dollars

Being ordinary American consumers, we feel pretty safe in assuming that we’re not alone in our diligent commitment to utilizing every possible self-service option at our disposal before we eventually suck it up and make that dreaded 1-800 customer service call for help.

Nothing short of exasperation gone wild can seduce us into thinking that the indefinite phone time on hold (so as to not lose priority placement in the queue of course) will be worth the wait … a hope briskly shattered the very second a customer service representative answers the line in an unintelligible accent far from home who then launches the dialogue with a monotone recital of some scripted corporate sales pitch, instead of the proper, and expected, “how can I help you?”

They say when one door closes another one opens, yet in the world of guerilla marketing, the door seems to simply revolve. Just look in the rear view mirror at the national “do not call” registry. Exasperated consumers believed themselves victorious back when the “do not call” list had been legislated for the sole purpose of closing the door on intrusive corporate telemarketers who made it a point to barrage households with unsolicited sales calls at dinner time.

But the door never really closed. It just swung around, and now these same telemarketers lay in wait as a captive consumer audience is forced back through the door with an in-coming 1-800 phone call when in need of “customer service” assistance.
There was a time prior to 2010 when a new credit card received in the mail could be easily activated by punching in a few correct numbers from our home phone. Well those were ‘the good old days’ because now card activating customers are advised to hold on for the service rep whose primary purpose is not to simplify the card activation process, but to promote and sell ancillary add-on products.

Most of the major airline carriers have fairly sophisticated websites filled with important information including policies, security procedures and carry on restrictions for air travel. When what we needed to know before making a trip abroad couldn’t be found on the airline’s website, all it took was one phone call … then another … and then another, to the airline’s 1-800 customer service line for us to concede that the phrase “customer service” has now become a front for guerilla corporate marketing.

And as we tried to get an answer to what we thought was an uncomplicated question, we ended up going around the world without ever boarding a plane. First it was Mumbai where she tried to arrange for a rental car without even attempting to answer our question. As she started in on booking a hotel, we hit “Click-End Call”. Next it was Jamaica where we were told to go to the website for the answer. “Click-End Call”. The last attempt took us to South Africa where he pushed for us to apply for an airline credit card, book a hotel, rent a car. “Click-End Call”. After burning up more cell phone time than we care to admit, we were back where we started, answerless.

It's official. The phrase “customer service” has now become another “Oxymoron of the 21st Century”, right behind “private sector transparency” and “self-regulation”.

The commercials aired on network television aren’t what they used to be either. Between the endless election and political smear campaigns trying to buy a vote (maybe we should take a tip from the Brits on this one), and the pharmaceutical commercials looking to medicate the masses, it’s all a bunch of white noise that is vapidly fast-forwarded through on the DVR.

As 21st century advertisers persuasively strive to overcome their self-inflicted handicap of marketing to a highly desensitized population, it’s painfully obvious that the “Mad Men” days of effective advertising are long gone. The advertising strategies seen today are no longer designed to provide useful or beneficial information, but to assault the senses and provide entertainment. And apparently with disappointing results.

Most of the country is currently feeling the pinch that squeezes hard during a depressed economy. The call to employ significant cost cutting measures has been heard across the board. Since customer care has evidently depreciated to just about valueless, corporate management has shown it’s hardly worth the bother anymore and undeniably merged sales/marketing with “customer service”. This little streamlining maneuver goes a long way towards keeping the executive bonus budgets in tact.

Every once in a rare while, we gratefully experience the relief that only a true “customer service” professional can administer, and it’s as refreshing as a cool mist in the desert. Sick and tired of being sold to, all we really want to know is if there’s anyone over at the airlines who can answer our question?

Break from the herd with our ‘In The Rear View Mirror’ September 4, 2009 posting “Mediocre Minds Think Alike”.

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