The Mystery Of The Call To Customer Service


“You did just give us your account number. We ask again so people can’t cut in the phone queue. Just because something’s physically and logically impossible is no reason not to have a policy.”

“Put like that it almost makes sense. Can we say my number is ‘forty’?”

“It doesn’t look that old, but I’m game. For quality-control purposes this call may have been pre-recorded. What is a problem?”

“You know how there’s an Internet? Not for me.”

“The web site could be down.”

“I tried Google, YouTube, archive.org, The New York Times, and Comics Curmudgeon, and the browser kept pointing and laughing that I wasn’t on the Internet.”

“Someday all those sites will be down simultaneously and we’ll cackle smugly at everybody thinking we’re the problem.”

“You do need quality controlled. You wouldn’t want it running wild.”

“That didn’t sound submissive.”

“Thinking about quality control. Am I being pre-recorded?”

“We can’t tell. It’d ruin the control group’s self-esteem. If you’re in the control group it’d spoil a relationship starting so well.”

“That’s considerate, unless I’m in the other group.”

“We thought you’d agree. Could you give us your account number again?”

“This time I’ll say ninety-four.”

“Oh, you are a giddy prankster. What’s your cable modem model number?”

“Hold on, I have to get the cat off it … … hold on, I have to find bandages … … It’s a model 327W.”

“That’s not the model number.”

“It says that’s the model number on top.”

“Yes, and don’t think this hasn’t lead to fisticuffs. The model number is on the bottom where you can’t read it in your light.”

“Could I give my phone number again?”

“I was just fixing to ask. Would you like it to be ‘six’ now?”

“No, I feel like ‘four’. On the bottom the cable modem is a model 327-W.”

“That’s better. … I’ll have to transfer you to a guy named `Jeff’. He’s usually hanging around and probably works for us. We don’t get many fans, though if he is one that explains his applause.”

“I like chances to talk with people named `Jeff’.”

“For Jeff, you’ll have to describe the problem, and give your customer number, and your model number. You’ll still have the problem.”

“Does he give the numbers back after?”

“He should. It’s bad practice to hog numbers. We lost `fourteen’ for months to one sourpuss tired of having people to turn things off and on.”

“Does he control quality too? — Never mind, it’d hurt my feelings if one of us lied. Should we give him an encore?”

“Would you please re-say your account number?”

“It’s forty, in that case. How did he like it?”

“He says he’s `Paul’ and we have him confused for someone else. Security is escorting him out.”

“Are they confused?”

“They know the way. This is about the twelfth Paul this month.”

“Would it help mentioning my customer number is 101?”

“It makes me more secure after this shocking Paul incident. Have you got another computer we might try something on?”

“I don’t.”

“Then we’re can’t do anything without someone actually named ‘Jeff’.”

“In that case, I do. I just didn’t want to confuse this issue.”

“Could you plug it in to your cable modem?”

“Any particular connection?”

“Yes, one into the cable modem. And go to the site 192 dot 168 dot … ”

“Dot 1 dot 1?”

“You act suspiciously like someone named ‘Jeff’.”

“Should I mention my customer number is 327?”

“No, that’s your model number. Do you see under Network Settings anything for DCHP/IP?”

“DCHP?”

“Yeah, let’s act like that matters. Do you see any pull-down menus?”

“I do, but hoped to ignore them.”

“Have you rebooted things?”

“I considered rebooting the refrigerator, so I could eat the ice cream.”

“I recommend trying that and calling back. My customer number is twelve.”

“That’s my number too. I bet it’s why we get along so.”

“Your supposition satisfies me. Were there any other issues?”

“There, the Internet came back. Thank you. There’s nothing else, Jeff.”

“You’re welcome — wait, how did you know?”


What clue told the caller the operator was Jeff? Read tomorrow’s puzzle and check your solution!

My Question To You, And My Windshield Wiper


I haven’t shared any automotive fiascos with you in a while. So here’s one. It started with my replacing the windshield wipers on my love’s car. It was meant as the smallest surprise nice little possible. My love was kind of aware this was coming, since I’d bought the blades a week or two before and never got around to installing them. These were the Rain-X Quantum windshield wipers, so named because they come in discrete and indivisible units, as opposed to those continuous wipers you get from other makers.

So our first rainy day out my love had a good question: what was that little floppy thing coming loose on the driver-side windshield wiper? By the time I figured out what my love was pointing at, and come to guess that it was something we didn’t really need, it had flown off onto the highway. In my defense we went on through two hours of driving in mild rain before things got any worse.

We were off in the middle of nowhere after 11 pm on a Sunday night when things got worse. This worse was the wiper blade coming loose. So we figured to stop at the next thing we could stop at, which took about twenty minutes to reach. This would be the driveway of a volunteer fire department, where there was a sign not to park there, but they had an overhang and everything and I mean, who’s going to have a fire that close to midnight on a Sunday? Bear in mind, this was a small town. Folks there know their volunteer fire department and wouldn’t go having a fire at that hour. Anyway there I could swap the loose wiper on the driver’s side for the solid wiper on the passenger’s side, and I know what you’re thinking: what, doesn’t the passenger want to see through the rain too? Well, I was the passenger and I’ll tell you, this rain looked like a rerun to me.

Still, we needed a new wiper and the obvious place to get one after midnight on a Sunday was Meijer’s, which you can find in Michigan (where we were) by going 750 feet in any direction. Except in this stretch of western Michigan where, again, nothing was but us and the volunteer fire department. The satellite navigator said if we drove close enough to Grand Rapids, where Meijer’s is headquartered by the way, we’d find one on Alpine Avenue. But we were heading to Grand Rapids, on Alpine Avenue. And twenty minutes later we got to the spot where no Meijer’s existed or showed any sign of ever existing.

So I asked the satellite navigator for the next-nearest Meijer’s. This took us off Alpine Avenue, down I-96 away from home, and then into a bunch of small roads. There we found: Meijer’s Corporate Headquarters Complex. With, like, huge glass windows and a mural of old Meijer’s corporate logos and things like that. So that was great to see except that I was about 40% sure there was nowhere there we could exchange money for a product. There was another one a half-mile away, which turned out to be the regional distribution center. If I could have found the front door I’d have banged on it to ask what they have in windshield wipers. There would be no point to this.

Next search: since “places to shop named Meijer’s” wasn’t working I searched for “Meijer Pharmacy”, and this time it lead us to a Meijer’s with a pharmacy and open doors and windshield wipers for sale and everything. It’s back on Alpine Avenue again. So I marched in and got the 21-inch blade we needed. Then marched out, after paying (don’t think that won’t come back to fiasco on me), and the little plastic thing that came off on the original blade came off again, but right away this time.

So I marched back in to the Customer Service desk, which had been closed for two and a half hours. I went to the guy supervising the self-checkout lanes and he said exchanging the blade was no problem. I went back to grab a 19-inch blade, because the car took different sizes for the driver’s and passenger’s side. I can’t think of any reason why the 19-inch blade should work and the 21-inch doesn’t, but after two failures in a row? I also couldn’t think of any reason to care.

The supervisor guy noticed the blades were different sizes, though, and so he figured he needed to ring this up properly and we went to the Customer Service desk. There it turned out the new blade was cheaper than the old. This is because I didn’t get the Quantum blade, but instead a Rain-X Latitude, so named for its great scope to do things, most of them wipe-based. This was cheaper, though, so he had to refund me $3.80. Maybe it wasn’t $3.80, but whatever it was was at least as good. There wasn’t any money in the Customer Service desk, though, so he wanted to give me a gift card for the difference.

To do this he had to get the register to read the receipt, which the system said didn’t exist. He tried entering the transaction number manually, and the system agreed it didn’t exist. He figured he could ring this up as a receiptless exchange and refund and that I didn’t need to be part of figuring out the system’s problems. A good point. To do this he needed my driver’s license, to record whatever the heck it is they do. And then he swiped the gift card and the system didn’t want to do that. So he needed to take my driver’s license back and try it over again. I know what you’re thinking: no, he remembered to give me my license back before we got too far from the Customer Service Desk. Anyway this time the wiper went on, and it stayed on, lest I get out on I-96 and punch it.

A mile down the road I ask what I did with the old, defective blade when I took it off the car. We conclude I must have left it on the car hood and it’s now lost in the parking lot of a Meijer’s in Grand Rapids. It turns out the next day it’s just sitting in that space between the car hood and the windshield, protected by the wiper arms.

Grant the fiasco nature of this, or as they say in the trades is fiascosity. My question: what the heck was all this about?

Ahead of the Service Call


My car is just short of 90,000 miles, which is kind of amazing when you consider I work from home anymore. Now I have to work out the important questions: can I get it serviced before the trip to Cedar Point amusement park we’re figuring to take this weekend? And: can I get the interior vacuumed out so the car repair people don’t see how often I’ve clawed bits of fingernails off and left them to fall onto the floor? They’re my fingernails, yes, but I know if I were servicing someone’s 2009 Scion tC I wouldn’t want to run across torn-off fingernails. Also given that we’ve got like fourteen perfectly good nail clippers in the house why don’t I use those? I bet it’s because when I’m at home I almost never get stuck at an excessively long stop light and have the time to maul my own fingers.

I already worry enough about being judged by people I see as much as three times per year, I don’t need to worry about this on top of it. I wonder if I should mention the fingernail anxiety when they ask me to review the servicing.

Robert Benchley: How To Sell Goods


In this piece from Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley shares solid, practical advice he got from reading a book. It’s still solid advice nearly a century on. For the record I’m the kind of customer who tries to hide behind the endcaps and will flee to another store if an employee asks if I need any help finding anything, which slows me down those times when I do need help finding something. However, if I’m really determined to buy something, any old thing will do and I can find something most anyplace to buy. iPod case? $100 Grand candy bar? Soccer ball pressure gauge? Differently-colored underwear? They’re all somethings. They’ll do.

HOW TO SELL GOODS

The Retail Merchants’ Association ought to buy up all the copies of Elements of Retail Salesmanship, by Paul Westley Ivey (Macmillan), and not let a single one get into the hands of a customer, for once the buying public reads what is written there the game is up. It tells all about how to sell goods to people, how to appeal to their weaknesses, how to exert subtle influences which will win them over in spite of themselves. Houdini might as well issue a pamphlet giving in detail his methods of escape as for the merchants of this country to let this book remain in circulation.

The art of salesmanship is founded, according to Mr. Ivey, on, first, a thorough knowledge of the goods which are to be sold, and second, a knowledge of the customer. By knowing the customer you know what line of argument will most appeal to him. There are several lines in popular use. First is the appeal to the instinct of self-preservation—i.e., social self-preservation. The customer is made to feel that in order to preserve her social standing she must buy the article in question. “She must be made to feel what a disparaged social self would mean to her mental comfort.”

It is reassuring to know that it is a recognized ruse on the part of the salesman to intimate that unless you buy a particular article you will have to totter through life branded as the arch-piker. I have always taken this attitude of the clerks perfectly seriously. In fact, I have worried quite a bit about it.

In the store where I am allowed to buy my clothes it is quite the thing among the salesmen to see which one of them can degrade me most. They intimate that, while they have no legal means of refusing to sell their goods to me, it really would be much more in keeping with things if I were to take the few pennies that I have at my disposal and run around the corner to some little haberdashery for my shirts and ties. Every time I come out from that store I feel like Ethel Barrymore in Déclassée. Much worse, in fact, for I haven’t any good looks to fall back upon.

Robert Benchley standing meekly before the sales clerk.
They intimate that I had better take my few pennies and run `round the corner to some little haberdashery. Illustration by Gluyas Williams.

But now that I know the clerks are simply acting all that scorn in an attempt to appeal to my instinct for the preservation of my social self, I can face them without flinching. When that pompous old boy with the sandy mustache who has always looked upon me as a member of the degenerate Juke family tries to tell me that if I don’t take the five-dollar cravat he won’t be responsible for the way in which decent people will receive me when I go out on the street, I will reach across the counter and playfully pull his own necktie out from his waistcoat and scream, “I know you, you old rascal! You got that stuff from page 68 of Elements of Retail Salesmanship (Macmillan).”

Other traits which a salesperson may appeal to in the customer are: Vanity, parental pride, greed, imitation, curiosity and selfishness. One really gets in touch with a lot of nice people in this work and can bring out the very best that is in them.

Customers are divided into groups indicative of temperament. There is first the Impulsive or Nervous Customer. She is easily recognized because she walks into the store in “a quick, sometimes jerky manner. Her eyes are keen-looking; her expression is intense, oftentimes appearing strained.” She must be approached promptly, according to the book, and what she desires must be quickly ascertained. Since these are the rules for selling to people who enter the store in this manner, it might be well, no matter how lethargic you may be by nature, to assume the appearance of the Impulsive or Nervous Customer as soon as you enter the store, adopting a quick, even jerky manner and making your eyes as keen-looking as possible, with an intense expression, oftentimes appearing strained. Then the clerk will size you up as type No. 1 and will approach you promptly. After she has quickly filled your order you may drop the impulsive pose and assume your natural, slow manner again, whereupon the clerk will doubtless be highly amused at having been so cleverly fooled into giving quick service.

The opposite type is known as the Deliberate Customer. She walks slowly and in a dignified manner. Her facial expression is calm and poised. “Gestures are uncommon, but if existing tend to be slow and inconspicuous.” She can wait.

Then there is the Vacillating or Indecisive Customer, the Confident or Decisive Customer (this one should be treated with subtle flattery and agreement with all her views), The Talkative or Friendly Customer, and the Silent or Indifferent one. All these have their little weaknesses, and the perfect salesperson will learn to know these and play to them.

There seems to be only one thing left for the customer to do in order to meet this concerted attack upon his personality. That is, to hire some expert like Mr. Ivey to study the different types of sales men and women and formulate methods of meeting their offensive. Thus, if I am of the type designated as the Vacillating or Indecisive Customer, I ought to know what to do when confronted by a salesman of the Aristocratic, Scornful type, so that I may not be bulldozed into buying something I do not want.

If I could only find such a book of instructions I would go tomorrow and order a black cotton engineer’s shirt from that sandy-mustached salesman and bawl him out if he raised his eyebrows. But not having the book, I shall go in and, without a murmur, buy a $3 silk shirt for $18 and slink out feeling that if I had been any kind of sport at all I would also have bought that cork helmet in the showcase.

The Road Warrantiers


A controversial thing going around Michigan right now is a public referendum for a road-repair plan. As side effects it also changes how schools get funded, changes the sales tax, and requires a band of the state National Guard to tromp into Toledo once every two years and say, “Is too ours anytime we want it”. It’s kind of complicated. Even the media guides to it drift off after a few paragraphs and admit, “every time they explain it to us it sounds like it makes sense but then we leave the room and we forget how it works again”.

But there’s advertisements for it on the TV now. One advert just explained how under the new plan roads will have to be warrantied. I never thought of warrantying road construction before. I guess I had just assumed that as long as nobody stole your road within four months of construction then everything was fine. It’s kind of comforting knowing that roads can be warrantied and maybe even will be. But now I’m imagining my next visit to Best Buy. I’ll be waiting at the customer service desk, trying in despair to think of anything I can buy that wouldn’t be a waste of my $5 gift certificate. And ahead of me will be the Mayor of Lansing, holding a chunk of where I-496 turns into 127, pointing to a receipt that’s eight feet long, and arguing a pothole. I always get stuck behind problems like that.

Why I Should’ve Watched My Mouth


The trouble started when my dentist suggested a more convenient way to get my teeth cleaned. Convenience is pretty much the source of every trouble, if you take a generous enough view of “the source”. Here the proximate cause was that getting my teeth cleaned is a thing to do, while the modern efficient society requires that we be doing at least four or twelve things at once, and my willingness to just hang about and be there left him unnerved. What other things could I be doing that I wasn’t? I suggested I could also stare intently at the bird feeder which has been occupied by a squirrel for six years straight and which is bending over under the accumulated mass of squirrel, but he didn’t think that enough.

What he suggested was that I could have him pop my mouth out, leave it there for him to clean efficiently, and I could go off to the mall or to a movie or to poke onto the Internet where I could find a thing and make fun of it digitally. I was skeptical, but he pointed out that it’s much easier to clean the back teeth if there aren’t all that front cheek in the way and if he doesn’t have to go around my mouth, and I figured I wasn’t expecting to say much of anything that day anyway, so I agreed. Of course, I used a series of head-bobbings to indicate approval, lest he think I wasn’t taking him seriously.

You’d think the first thing to worry about after he popped my mouth out was how it’d leave my moustache just hanging there. You’d be right, but then I went and did something foolish. I pretty near always go for fast food right after a dentist’s visit, dating back to when my father always took us kids to White Castle after the dentist cleaned our teeth, because my father wanted to be sure we grew up appreciating the inherent absurdity of life. So I rode over to the Burger King where the cashier once complimented my accent and sought reassurance that I don’t think Michigan accents sound funny and proceeded through a series of grunts and pointing at menu placemats to convince the cashier that I was late for the breakfast service. There’s a happy ending, though, since they had the cheesey omelette wraps left over.

There was something like forty minutes left, so I went over to the mall where I found stuff and looked at it manually. That went about like you’d expect, although outside the gourmet popcorn place I realized I had to cough pretty badly, and the gourmet popcorn cashier would only do it if we rang it up as a sale of a small bag of bacon-guacamole glazed popcorn. I’m glad I didn’t eat any either.

I got back to the dentist’s a little bit early because I was sure I was running late, and that’s the only way I get anywhere on time. He had this apologetic look and had me read over a brochure on fire safety while he tried to edge out of the room. They had got a little busy too, what with it being the modern age, and realized they were none too sure where my mouth had got to. This was no joke; they even showed me all the cupboards and we checked even the annoying drawers you have to kneel on the floor to see, and it just wasn’t there.

They’re sorry, of course, and you might imagine they would be, but they were able to set me up with a loaner mouth in order that I could bite people who needed it. And meanwhile the dental insurance company is pretty sure that if my mouth goes two weeks without appearing they can swing to buy me a permanent replacement. There’ve been some great upgrades available the last couple of years — stuff with polymers that sounds so great because I used to read a lot of pop science books from the 60s when polymers sounded really great, sabre teeth, micro-lasers so I could read a compact disc just by licking it — and I have to say, at this point I’m kind of hoping they don’t find it. It’s a weird state to be in, isn’t it?

Nine minutes, 28 seconds, in my case


So it turns out customer support phone operators are evaluated on how long it takes for the customer to give up and agree to absolutely anything as long as he’s allowed to get off the phone.

In other news the resolution to our satellite receiver’s defects involve me being sent by UPS, in a box they’ll provide, to their main warehouse facility, where I’m going to and replace their aluminum siding and install new faucets in the bathroom. I have to bring the faucets.

I Guess It’s A Compliment?


The DishTV representative wondered where I was from, for the good reason that we had been on the phone for ten minutes waiting for a green bar to finish going across the screen. I wonder how long satellite TV people spend on the phone waiting for people to watch green bars move all the way across the screen. Probably after a long day of this they go home and watch blue dots dripping down screens, for the variety.

But I told her I was from New Jersey, which is true, and she said I didn’t have an accent. I thanked her without having the faintest idea why, and we got the green bar all the way across the screen without having to find any more small talk.