I Need to Talk to a Real Person Please

I once ordered antivirus software from a particular company. As it turned out, it would have been easier and more pleasant to have a virus.

I was unable to download the software—not surprisingly—so as directed, I emailed the support desk for help. Then several days later I emailed again. When no help was forthcoming I purchased another brand and emailed the first company asking for a refund.

Then they finally offered to help. Then they couldn’t find any record of my order. Then they asked me to tell them what happened. Then they asked me to tell them again.

After more than a month and a dozen emails back and forth, they sent me a message saying, “Unfortunately, these issues are best resolved over the phone. Please call at your convenience.”

They must have meant at their convenience because they didn’t include a toll-free number and they left me on hold for twenty minutes—twice. Eventually I was able to speak to an actual human, or so I thought. I’ll call him SJ for “Smug Jerk”—because he was one, not because it’s his name. I forgot that, but his mother probably even calls him Smug Jerk.

Anyway, his helpful response was, “You’re past the thirty-day refund period.”

“But I’ve been emailing your company for thirty days.”

“Doesn’t matter. That’s our policy.”

Customer service rule number one: Never say, “That’s our policy.” Even if it is. The only thing more infuriating to a customer is spitting on them. SJ probably would have done that too if he weren’t far away, hiding in his little cubicle in the bowels of some giant tech firm.

SJ said his supervisor would email me the next day. I told him I’d rather give him my phone number.

“He won’t call.”

“Why not? Your email said these issues are best resolved by phone.”

“Only within thirty days.”

That’s when I did something that I normally reserve only for the people I love and care about the most: I yelled at SJ. I told him his customer service skills stink. His company stinks and his cubicle probably stinks too. Actually I don’t remember what I said, but I know it did nothing to change his company’s policy.

And he was right. His supervisor didn’t call. Nor did he email. And I’m still waiting for my refund.

Customer service has changed in the age of online shopping. Now we spend our days emailing faceless companies, being put on hold by people who may or may not go to lunch while we wait, live chatting on our computer with technicians who can type faster than we can and talking to recordings, my personal favorite.

They’re not all bad. Not long ago I called a particular company to cancel three magazine subscriptions. And the nice lady who answered the phone didn’t even try to talk me out of it. That’s because she was a recording. A very nice recording. I’ll call her Digital Dora though she didn’t actually introduce herself.

She asked me to say the name of each magazine and after each one she said pleasantly, “I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the magazine.” Three times, she said that. But she didn’t sound sorry, so I didn’t feel bad canceling like I would have if Digital Dora had been a real human being working on commission.

A conversation I had with another recording took twice as long and was a lot less productive. I’d already kicked the wall and cursed the credit card company by the time I got around to calling the customer service number on the back of my credit card. What I wanted at that moment was a helpful reassuring human being, or a reasonable facsimile—like Digital Dora. Instead I got Recorded Rita. “If you would like help in English, please say ‘English’ or press one.”

“English or press one.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. If you would like help in English, please say ‘English’ or press one.”

Apparently she didn’t get the joke. I said “English.”

“Please say ‘lost card protection,’ ‘new card features,’ ‘rate quotes’ or ‘problems with my bill.’”


“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. Please say ‘lost card protection,’ ‘new card features,’ ‘rate quotes’ or ‘problems with my bill.’”

“I don’t understand my stupid bill.” I’m not what you’d call a quick learner.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. Please say ‘lost card protection,’ ‘new card features’….”

“Problems with my bill.” She’d beaten me into submission.

“Are you having problems with your bill? Please say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

“Well duh!”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. Are you having problems with your bill? Please say….”

“Yes,” I screamed. Then I remembered this call might be monitored for quality assurance purposes.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” But she didn’t sound sorry at all. “I’ll transfer you to our billing department.”

“Wait! Are there any real people there?”

She didn’t answer. Clearly Rita lacks empathy, she has poor hearing and she has no sense of humor. But I’ll say this for her. She never loses her temper and she’s very polite. Her last words to me were, “Thank you for using your (name of worthless) credit card.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t hear you.”