The Customer Service Representative and the Messiah

We never encounter customer service directly, only its representatives. Every quest after customer service is a Kafkaesque ordeal, in the purest possible sense. We are all the man from the country, waiting at the threshold to customer service without ever entering. Like the guard, customer service representatives exist to wait us out, to convince us that our demand can never be fulfilled. There is always another department, another number we should have selected from the phone tree, another interminable wait on hold.

We all want to ask for the manager, that sovereign who can decide to solve our problem, but we are by and large stuck with the incompetent customer service representative, who stares helplessly at the computer system that will not let them do or change anything. They tell us of the labyrinthine internal processes, not to empower us, but to convince us that nothing can be done. The computer isn’t showing that. Someone entered it wrong but no one can fix it.

Even explaining what the problem is requires the patience of Job. The customer service representative has a limited number of templates, it seems, and the particularity of your problem never fits. All they have to offer are solutions that implicitly blame the customer or presume that the customer is stupid. Have you tried resetting it? No, because I’m a total idiot who has never used any technology before. They just thawed me out of an ice block.

The question that arises for me is why every customer service representative isn’t a manager. Why even put us in contact with these pathetic souls who are forbidden from directly solving our problems? The answer is clear: they serve as human shields for our anger, in two senses. First, our frustration becomes displaced from the company that has wronged us to the fools in the customer service department. Second, and more insidiously, our anger is disqualified, delegitimated — after all, we shouldn’t take it out on this poor hapless underemployed petty bureaucrat. It’s not their fault, they’re just following orders.

But their orders are to systematically deprive us of service. The customer service phone tree is a trench in the war of attrition against customers’ justified demands. They are understaffed and underpaid because their role is to discourage us from seeking redress. They deny us a solution on the off chance that we will give up and pay the extra charge rather than go through the bother. And they wouldn’t continue to exist, despite being a byword and a terror to all customers everywhere, if they didn’t pay for themselves. The door really was meant for us alone, and the customer service representative stands ready to close it.

The messianic age will come when we finally see customer service face-to-face.

4 thoughts on “The Customer Service Representative and the Messiah

  1. the world of the customer service representative is so layered and complex- worlds within worlds, blurrings of class lines- the boss sits at a desk, we sit at a desk. Some have no tech skills, some have all tech skills but are prevented from using them by electronic user interfaces (screens in a literal and figurative sense). Managers punish the workers who know the most- they take “too much time”, and reward the newly hired, know nothing call handler by using robotic computer programs likely to misroute your problem to someone in Timbuktu- the less you know the faster you go, the more stats can be racked up in competitive performance charts. Race/class/gender diversity are weilded like hammers on the middle aged white workers, who seethe as young Black or gay people get favored treatment like “help desk” pseudo management jobs where you aren’t subjected to the grueling grind of taking irate call after call over a hundred times a day. I don’t do this type of work anymore, but I did it Qwest Communications for about nine years, though it was more than a dozen years ago- now with de unionization the smaller companies don’t even pretend to adhere to “political correctness”, it is simple dog eat dog.

  2. My point being, if you think being a customer is Kafka-esqe, you should try being on the other end of the call!

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