Like our own, even the world of customer service is full of coincidences
Suresh Menon | January 4, 2013
It is an amazing coincidence, but this is about the two C's that matter to us most: customer service and coincidences. You know, about how Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln (or is it the other way around?). And how your call is important – not to Kennedy or Lincoln, but to customer service.
Some coincidences have already become classics. Like the one about the Daily Telegraph’s crossword puzzle that gave away half a dozen code names and landing sites of the Allied invasion during World War 2, the return of the killer Allies.
More interestingly, the number of astronomical units (ie the distance between the earth and the sun) in a light-year (63,240) is virtually the same as the number of inches in a mile (63,360). And the number of seconds in a day (86,400), times 10, is the same as the approximate diameter of the sun (864,000 miles).
Look around and you will notice all kinds of coincidences. You decide to call up a friend you have not spoken to for months, and you suddenly notice a car that reminds you of Elvis Presley. How thrilling! You wonder what has happened to Gwyneth Paltrow while lazily surfing the channels on your TV when suddenly your attention is drawn to a movie starring Shah Rukh Khan. There is no scientific explanation for such coincidences.
Here are some more: My ATM password is the same as the four digits of the year I was born. The Greek general Alexander and the Mughal Emperor Akbar had the same surname: Great. The boiling point of water in celsius is the same as the number of centuries made by Sachin Tendulkar in international cricket.
And so to customer service. Experience might have taught you that like the unicorn and the phoenix, it is a mythical beast, yet with that optimism which causes the human race to get married and have babies, we continue to hope that the next one will be real and will solve all problems electrical, mechanical, analogical, digital – in short whatever is wrong with what you just bought.
Of course, first you have to negotiate your way through the numbers.
“If you have purchased a washing machine, press one.” And you think that's the end of it. But no.
“If you are over six feet and wearing matching blue socks, press two.” You do that, and then there is: “If your birthday is in the first half of the year and your washing machine is nicknamed 'Washo', please press three.”
And so it goes on. Choice is terror, wrote Sartre, but without choice you can't get to the sanctum sanctorum of the customer services’ temple.
At some point, everything comes to an abrupt end. No more questions, no more choices. Just the soothing voice of a nameless, faceless, human being urging you not to let go of the phone.
What sincerity these recorded voices have! They assure you that you are their favoured customer and that they will attend to you as soon as possible. And if you don't believe that the first time, they will repeat it any number of times. These disembodied voices are proof of the existence of man.
Four centuries ago, Descartes wrote: I think, therefore I am. He never had to deal with customer service, or he would have written, “I hold for customer service, therefore I must be.” Or, “I am reassured by the voice at the other end of the line, therefore there must be somebody else, ergo I am.” One man's somebody else, as the philosopher nearly wrote, is another man's self.
I once bought a toaster that wouldn't toast and rang up customer service. “Let me connect you to our technical division,” said the voice.
The tech div, having made sure I had unpacked the toaster before plugging it in suggested whacking it smartly on the side. Now this was another technique I was familiar with, having whacked the sides of unresponsive television sets, computers, two-seater cars and the occasional irritating nephew.
And do you know, it worked! I hadn't realised I was so tech-savvy.
My respect for the voice has gone up. These days I occasionally call just to make small talk. I get through maybe once in a hundred and eleven attempts, but it is good to hear that my call is important. For therefore, I am. What a coincidence!
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