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  • Customer Service: Oxymoron?

    Several years ago, I read a funny, wonderfully cynical novel called “Dear American Airlines” about a man who wrote an angry letter to the company when stuck in a lengthy delay.  This won’t be novel length, nor will I use this as an opportunity to vent my spleen over my multiple screw-ups in life as the author of that book did, but you get the picture. (Parenthesis in italics are stream-of-consciousness observations.)

    Dear CEO of Unnamed Carrier of Air and Ground Mailed Goods:

    I would like to request an opportunity to train your team members on the value of customer service following a series of delays in shipping a phone to my teenage son who is in Canada for eight weeks. (How’s that for an opener?)

    Please understand, complaints of this nature are not something I normally do. In fact, this is the first letter of this type that I have written in two decades. (Trying to paint myself as a rational human being before it’s too late.) However, given that I tried to explain the situation to multiple people in at least six phone calls over the past 16 hours, and am out almost $270 for the effort as a result, perhaps you’ll understand my frustration. (It’s not like the money I spent will help you obtain naming rights to a stadium, or anything like that.)

    Here is the background: My 17-year-old son is on the road with a touring musical that is staying in Canada for eight weeks. Recently, his phone cracked after he dropped it, and we had to get a replacement via insurance. (Admittedly, the case wasn’t the best, and my son is to blame for not practicing safe phone, but that’s another story.) While waiting for the replacement, he left the United States for Canada, and I decided to ship it to Toronto when it arrived.

    (This is where the fun begins.)

    I took the package to one of your stores, set it up to ship, and was told that it would cost almost $100! ($98.42 to be exact.) I believed the fee was high and said so, but was told by your customer service representative that “It’s how they do it” in Canada (and then some). Given that my son is living in an apartment complex and in temporary housing, I asked that the person make sure the package be left at the front desk if he was not available due to rehearsals, performances, etc.

    Assured that would be the case, I also asked for an email confirmation to be sent to me and to my son because I would be booked over the next several days. Without phone access to my son, I wanted to make sure we both could get the tracking information easily (as you promise on seemingly every page of your website).

    Alas (notice I didn’t use “Ass” in the interest of being professional), this did not happen.

    Two very busy days and nights after making the shipment, I contacted my son via email and asked if he had received his phone. He had not, nor had he received any information from your company as I requested. (Kinda kills the “when it has to get there overnight” theme, doesn’t it?)

    The next morning, I contacted your company and asked to speak to a customer service representative, explained the situation and … was promptly (hah!) transferred to international customer service because they were the ones who had the package.

    Finally armed with an email trail after tracking down the tracking number, the international customer service representative explained there was nothing he could do about my concerns about not being notified. That would have to be handled on the U.S. side, which (of course) had just transferred me to international.

    The customer service representative also noted that an attempt was made to deliver the shipment to my son’s apartment, but nothing was done to attempt to leave it at the complex’s front desk, despite my explicit instructions to do so. I authorized them to do so and was assured the package would be delivered by day’s end.

    5 p.m. came and nothing. I called your company, was transferred again to international after the domestic folks said they could do nothing about my concerns (at least they were consistent), and was then told that they had attempted to deliver the package but without success (or sadly, without notification to me or to my son).

    I was assured they would try to deliver it again by day’s end, and this representative was nice enough to call me back about 7 p.m. and let me know that it had been delivered to the front desk. I told my son to run over and get it, thinking the situation may finally be resolved. (But nooooo….)

    Sadly, the front desk had actually rejected the delivery when they were presented with a bill for $168.42. When I called your international customer service again (fifth call and ninth person I had spoken to) about 10 p.m. after speaking to my distressed and understandably confused son via FaceTime, I was told this was a customs fee assigned by Canada and that your company could (Or would? Still not sure) do nothing about it.

    I said I knew nothing about the customs fee, noting this was my first time to ship something internationally, and was told that I should not have tried to rely on the customer service representative in Virginia to know the rules about customs procedures. (Whaaatt???) And then, to make matters even more interesting, the international customer service representative then said, “Did you not read the fine (microscopic) print (written on a tag half the size of a napkin), sir?”

    Obviously, I did not. Blame me, the customer. (Appreciate that. Really, I do…)

    Finally I was told that if I wanted to dispute the fee, I should call back during regular business hours and they would hold the shipment until a decision was reached by Customs (probably 3 to 5 business days). Otherwise, I could pay the bill and the phone would be released. If I refused, I would have to pay the cost of the phone being shipped back to me. (Sort of misses the point of shipping it to Toronto in the first place, doesn’t it?)

    I decided to count to 10 and wait to make a decision, but was disconnected and had to make yet another call to get what I hoped will be some final resolution. After 20 minutes on hold, on the sixth call just after 12:30 a.m. EST, a seemingly bone weary person in the payroll department agreed to start the paperwork on the “Money Back Guarantee” when shipping goes wrong.  (I have yet to see the paperwork on that, however.)

    This person (I think he wears khakis) was the first to make this conciliation; at no point during the first five calls of the day was anything offered other than monotone apologies for the mix-up and my subsequent confusion. I did have to pay the customs fee to get the phone released, however, but was told I could dispute that at a later time.

    So, to sum up, I’m down $266 and change, plus the three-plus hours lost due to the multiple phone calls, which more than doubles my loss. The phone will be delivered four days after it was initially scheduled (barring unforeseen tragedy) and through two separate departments I can seek reimbursement that may or may not happen.

    At this point, I must take a moment to catch my breath and ask you a simple, fundamental question about your company’s customer service training. Do you assume every customer who walks into one of your (umpteen million) locations has experience shipping internationally, or a deep-seeded knowledge of the customs laws in every country about COD dues and fees?

    Based on the conversations I had with your international customer representative(s), I can only assume the onus is on me or the recipient to know this is the case. But rather than assume (legitimate use of the term, not the juvenile use) I know what’s happening, shouldn’t the workers in your employ provide that information at the start? After all, you are “the experts.” (Or that’s what your marketing says…)

    Also, when your company makes a mistake on something like this, can you not acknowledge the error and try to make amends early in the process to ensure the person shipping the item and the person receiving it are left, if not happy, then at least satisfied that you did everything you could?

    I realize many of the issues I’ve brought up could have been avoided had the point person where I made the shipment done his/her job (Keeping it gender neutral, just in case there’s any question there). However, the subsequent lack of follow up, misinformation, passing the buck and general lack of interest in helping me resolve this issue is disappointing to say the least. That is why I would like to volunteer to train your employees. (Because anyone, apparently, can do a better job than your current staff.)

    Just let me know. I’m available. (And please, please do something about your Devo-esque background music when callers are on hold. It drives a person crazy.)


    Glenn Cook, Unhappy Camper

  • A Birth-day Memory

    Sometimes, when we pick up around the house, my wife wonders aloud if the air duct is clean. Depending on her mood, she may even try to climb onto something to make sure the dust is gone.

    On that day 12 years ago, she stared at it every few minutes, waiting for me to whisper in her ear. “Focus, focus,” I said. “Breathe. Breathe. Keep your focus. You’re doing good. There you go.”

    For hours we continued this routine, a process that began with an “Oh-my-God-that’s-intense” pain that woke her up around 1:30 a.m. on a cool Thursday morning.

    We arrived at the hospital around 5:15, and within an hour our room was filled with rhythmic, tribal sounds that came from the heart monitor’s tinny speaker. Drugs were administered to make her labor more regular, and the staring at the air duct began.

    Because twins presented a higher risk, more personnel and equipment were required than for a single delivery. We got the “good room,” twice as large as the others, to accommodate the extras.

    A ward full of nurses, some of whom we vaguely remembered from our daughter’s birth less than a year before, walked in and out. Three stayed with us on an irregular basis through their shift, talking about their families, what to eat for lunch — typical everyday-type things for everyone but the two of us. For them, it’s their job; they had five deliveries in 24 hours. We had other things on our minds.

    The rolling wave became more intense, and my wife requested drugs. A woman who would not come near an aspirin when she was pregnant the first time had become the poster child for epidurals.

    The next two hours were surreal, even for those not under the influence.

    Jill’s parents sat in a corner. Two health occupations students from a local high school observed while standing near a sink. The nurses continued their chatter while checking the vital signs. I jotted down notes on the hospital stationary. Jill read a newspaper between contractions, which with the epidural brought pressure but no pain. If not for the tribal rhythms of the heart monitors, it would be difficult to know she was in labor.

    The girl’s heart rate fell, dropping from the normal range — 140 to 160 — to 60. After 2 minutes, the nurses huddled. The doctor was called. Jill’s parents were asked to leave.

    The heart rate came back up; the doctor said our daughter was on the umbilical cord in some way. Since the rate was back to normal, it did not appear that a C-section would be necessary.

    The routine resumed. Jill continued to make progress, and the nurses rotated in and out as they left for lunch. Then the pressure intensified, and the time was near.

    Jill started to push, and push, and push. The baby girl’s heart rate leaped, then fell. My wife developed a fever. The baby was in distress —life-threatening distress.

    The C-section was ordered. I was told to put on scrubs, but I had to wait outside. If complications developed, I couldn’t be with my wife. 

    In 63 seconds, our bustling room was empty. All the equipment, the people, even my wife’s bed, was in the OR. I stood alone and waited. Seconds seemed like days.

    Finally, the anesthesiologist came in and got me, and I joined my wife in the operating room.

    At 2:34 p.m., Emma was born, the cord wrapped around her neck. The doctors worked on her quickly and she was fine, even though she narrowly escaped permanent brain damage because of the oxygen deprivation.

    At 2:35, Benjamin followed, announcing his presence as only a baby can do. We should have known then that he was a singer.

    Thirteen hours of labor. Nine hours at the hospital. Two new babies. One big scare.

    A memory of 12 years ago today.