Ralph Gardner Jr: Let's Hear It For Customer Support | WAMC

Ralph Gardner Jr: Let's Hear It For Customer Support

Jun 27, 2020

Placing an online order, or calling for technical support only to be asked to fill out a customer satisfaction survey seconds later can be annoying. What am I saying? Typically these days you’re asked whether you’d be willing to take their survey even before they connect you to a representative.

But sometimes, not often but sometimes, you’re actually eager to celebrate the service you’ve just received in the hope that when raises or promotions are considered your response will contribute to the employee’s positive evaluation.

These workers at the other end of the phone line or Internet are all the more precious during a pandemic because you’re even more dependent on them than you would be during normal times. Also, the process of buying things online is so depersonalized that any touch, any indication that there’s a live human being involved in the process rather than an algorithm, a sentient organism that has a life and family, dreams and perhaps student debt, who wonders what to eat for lunch and if the weather will cooperate on their camping trip next weekend feels like a port in a storm.

Having said that I can do without the birthday greetings, thank you. I’m not talking about people I get connected to at, say, multinational XYZ – that’s a made up name not some cutting edge technology firm -- that I develop a personal relationship with over the hour or two or three we spend together while they try to sort out why my device keeps failing.

That would be fine. I’m referring to the bank or car service company that knows your date of birth and sends you birthday greetings. I enjoy celebrating my birthday as much as the next guy but receiving greetings from a computer code doesn’t really increase my joy, doesn’t remind me that I’m still happy to be alive.

Lately I’ve found myself even more dependent on these valiant workers’ concern, intelligence and skill at navigating Google Maps. In this valuable category I include the route drivers for companies such as FedEx and UPS. We live on an oddly named and illogically numbered country road so whether an important package arrives or gets returned to sender, or frequently delivered to a stranger, tends to be something of a crap shoot.

Speaking of birthdays, when they pull up with the package in question, don their face mask, and deposit it in your driveway to avoid being exposed to your germs, you realize that the excitement and gratitude you feel reminds you of the emotions you experienced as a child on your birthday or Christmas morning as you tore open your gifts.

But certain customer care representatives rise above and beyond the call of duty. Marlon, for example. Marlon is employed by Ring, the home security company, whose combination doorbell security camera festoons our front door.

It doesn’t work all that well, but that’s not Ring’s fault. My Wi-Fi is too slow and weak to support the device. And it’s gotten worse lately as more and more neighbors work from home, diluting the signal. When I called up Ring to share my woes Marlon offered to send me a Ring Chime Pro Wi-Fi signal range booster, a $50 value, free of charge.

This came after he tried to help reset the device from the Philippines, where he’s located, as well as several follow-up calls that required some coordination because his hours are 5 a.m. to two p.m. Arizona time. Why Arizona time I don’t know.

And then Marlon contacted me to inform me that it wasn’t possible to deliver my Chime to the post office box I gave and whether I had another address. When I forgot to respond for a few days he contacted me again to remind me. So thank you Marlon.

The device finally arrived and another Ring representative helped me set it up over the phone; it’s not as easy as you think. It’s like making a romantic match. You need to make sure that your Wi-Fi router and signal booster are conveniently located within range of each other and then it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll get along.

This took about an hour during which Jack, I believe that was his name, or perhaps it was Jeff, told me about his own Ring devices and his somewhat sketchy sounding Phoenix neighborhood. That is until his security cameras helped scatter the mugs who’d previously loitered in his alleyway. I don’t think he was trying to sell me on his employer and its products. He was just being sociable. We also discussed the weather and the dimensions of his backyard.

Some might consider this way too much information. But we had a lot of time to kill and frankly it’s an improvement on those companies that ask you whether you’d prefer to listen to pop or classical music while you wait. Muzak, no matter your taste, doesn’t sound good over the phone.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.