Saturday, November 30, 2002

Welcome to the Machine

This morning I was a witness to what I believe to be the nadir of customer service in this country. It was about 10:30 AM, and there I was, minding my own business and preparing myself for the rest of the day (that is, mixing up a pitcher of bull shots to ease me into the noon hour, when the drinking in earnest typically begins). Then the squealing, electronic machine gun blast of my phone ringer goes off, breaking me out of my serene, zen-like trance. Snapping out of it and sprinting across the apartment and into the bedroom, where I keep the phone, I breathlessly answered...and was immediately confronted with a three second pause, followed by an automated voice announcing that something called Conseco Finance had an important message for me about my account. And then I was put on hold.

An odd development here. A company I've never heard of before, and with whom I'm quite sure I've never done any business with, programs a machine to call me, hires Stephen Hawking to do a voice over about some imaginary account, and then, because they're so busy, they put me on hold. The question arises, why bother even placing the call if you're to busy to talk to me in the first place. But I guess that's how things are done at Conseco Finance.

After about a minute of sitting on hold and coming to terms with what modernity hath wrought upon my life, I started to get a little irritated. By the second minute of being on hold I started to become fairly outraged. By minute four, my anger had subsided a little as I realized at least they were giving me some time to compose an effective combination of obscene words I could use on the human representative that would inevitably be thrust on the line (and into the lion's den). By minute five of being on hold, I found myself looking forward to the next interaction as there are very few instances in one's life where you can take time to prepare an articulate savaging of those who would seek to foul your life with their callous indifference and disregard of your time. But alas, I never got the chance. I heard one more recorded exhortation that they "appreciated my patience" and then I was summarily disconnected.

To summarize, I receive an unsolicited call on a Saturday morning (for what I presume was the purpose of marketing), I'm greeted by a misleading, uninformative recorded message, I'm put on hold for five minutes, and then I'm hung up on. Now granted I don't have an MBA from Wharton, but it's hard for me to understand how a company makes a profit by doing this. What exactly is the business model here? And what's phase two of your marketing plan, express, overnight, registered mail delivery of an empty envelope?

For some reason this whole experience, that of an unknown organization going out of their way and using their technology just to stick it to me, feels like the customer service equivalent of a CIA predator drone dropping out of the blue to fire a Hellfire missile at the back of my Land Rover. And like an Al Queda operative, I'm completely defenseless for the next assault. But these terrorist bastards deserve their fate for what they've done. On the other hand, Conseco Finance--what the hell did I ever do to you?!

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