Customer Service

Although the impetus for this blog was a “customer service” call I experienced with the “help” available at Charter/Spectrum when my cable was out, most everything here applies to all companies that assume artificial intelligence can serve customers as well a breathing, thinking, human being. Eventually, my problem was solved—but not before I developed a deep and abiding hatred for Charter/Spectrum in spite of a long history of good service from the human technicians who work for the company. Here’s the story:

I was at home nursing a very sore back (which probably reduced my tolerance for the stupidity of artificial intelligence). I turned my TV on only to be presented with “weird” menu options—”weird” in the sense of neither normal (what I usually see) nor responsive to commands from the controlling “wand.” I called my cable service, Charter/Spectrum, for assistance. In the past when I have had problems, a friendly technician came to the house, located the problem and corrected it. I was not so lucky this time. I kept getting Charter/Spectrum’s artificial intelligence “who” had me reset my cable box. It was a challenge getting there, however. I had to call several times to get to the point of actually receiving the directions for how to reset it. And the story doesn’t end there.

Resetting the cable box made a difference for the evening. The next morning, however, I was back to having the same problems that had led me to call Charter/Spectrum the day before. I am currently in the process of resetting my cable box again, and I have removed the batteries from my remote “wand,” so it should also be in the process of resetting. I have been thinking in terms of Direct TV, but I know from those who have that system, that it also has problems, the main one of which is that bad weather (which we have quite a bit of in SW Michigan) interferes with the picture. It is also possible to stream television programing, but one has to be a committed “cord cutter” to invest the time and effort required to get the desired channels. With streaming, I see no way to record desired programming and watch it at a later time.

That brings me back to the idea of customer service. I used to buy a lot of things from local stores. Many of those where I used to shop have gone out of business—some locally (Hudson’s), and some that remain open (Kohl’s) are devoid of customers and clerks. Bookstores, including the local Barnes and Nobel, seem to be doing well, and that’s in spite of all sorts of online competition. At one time the main local bookstore was John Rollins, but people (including me) stopped going because the customer service left a lot to be desired. In electronics and related items (including computers), Best Buy seems to be doing well in spite of online competition. In years gone by, a local company, the Software House, sold computers and related items. It went out of business, and the name now belongs to a different company.

A baseball player from long ago, Satchel Paige, said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” This is not only true for individuals, of course, but also for corporations. Many of the automobile companies I knew growing up are no longer in business, and the radio programming of my youth has faded into the sunset. When it comes to corporate survival, the bottom line continues to be “serve your customers.” Corporations may, of course, have more than one type of customer. I don’t know who Charter/Spectrum includes in its “customer base,” but it probably isn’t individual customers like me.

When I lived in Urbana, Illinois, a long time ago, I had a favorite gas station. I bought most of my gas there. I had my oil changed there. I even had a valve job done there. I don’t know if that station (Downtown Marathon) is still there or not. If it is, the name has changed. These days, I buy most of my gas from a station close to where I live, but I don’t know anyone there. I have maintenance done by the dealership where I bought the vehicle. I don’t know those who work there, and they don’t know me. And that’s OK.

Things change over time. Customer service is not exempt from the march of time. These days, the march of time seems to have become a race. It is inevitable that some things—and some people—will be left behind.