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The death of customer service

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
The death of customer service

Anyone who has seen Arthur Penn’s 1970 film “Little Big Man,” is sure to remember Chief Dan George’s performance as the weary but wise, Old Lodge Skins, leader of the Cheyenne tribe called The Human Beings. “The Human Beings, my son -- they believe everything is alive, not only man and animals, but also water, earth, stone, and also the things from them,” Old Lodge Skins tells the film's hero, Jack Crabb, played by Dustin Hoffman. “But the White Man -- they believe everything is dead -- stone, earth, animals, and people, even their own people.” Penn’s film is set in the 19th century before the advent of the telephone, but anyone dialing a business number these days will appreciate Old Lodge Skins’ wisdom. To members of our modern power classes, everything is indeed dead, even their own people.

“Thank you for calling Shoppers Drug Mart,” said a pleasant female voice yesterday after I dialed my local drug store. Except this wasn’t really the voice of a living Human Being. “For pharmacy and med-ready automated prescription refill service, please press one,” the voice said politely. Med-ready automated prescription refill service? Yes, I needed my prescription refilled, but I wanted to talk to a Human Being, not dictate my medical needs to a machine. So, I stayed on the line.

“For customer service, including Post Office, press two,” the voice commanded. The “please” was now gone. I recalled how they suddenly closed the local Post Office about 15 years ago and moved it to a Sears counter several kilometres away. If you wanted to mail a package or claim a parcel, you had to get in line behind customers ordering from the Sears catalogue. People complained and the Post Office eventually migrated to the local drug store which has since joined the giant Shoppers chain, “Canada’s leading retailer of beauty products,” according to its online advertising.

“For all other store inquiries including store hours and location,” the voice continued, “press three.” Wearily, I obeyed.

The phone rang several times before it was answered by a real Human Being. “I’m calling for a refill for my prescription,” I said brightly. “You should have pressed one,” said the clerk. “The next time you call for a refill, press one.” I stayed silent. She obviously thought I was an old fart. Well, to tell the truth, my hearing isn’t what it once was and I guess I thought pressing one would get me the pharmacy’s med-ready automated prescription refill service. “I will put you through to the pharmacy,” she said, “but next time, remember to press one.”

Later, I got angry and thought of all kinds of rude things I could have said to the annoyed clerk. I wondered if she was old enough to remember those long-ago days when you phoned a business number and talked to a real Human Being instead of obeying orders from a pre-recorded call menu and then waiting 20 minutes while a digital voice keeps telling you to, “Please stay on the line. Your call is important to us.”

“If things keep trying to live, White Man will rub them out,” Old Lodge Skins concludes. He could have been talking I guess, about the death of customer service.


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