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 they repeat it for any number of times and hope you do not give up
Suresh Menon | December 18, 2012
One of the joys of buying something new is the access it gives to customer service. Experience might have taught you that like the unicorn and the phoenix, customer service 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, or bang it down in frustration for despite its facelessness and namelessness, the voice loves you. It knows you are busy and have a hundred things to attend to, but it also knows that it cares for you and is dying to fix your washing machine.
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, so please do not hang up or write a movie script in the meantime. And if you don't believe that the first time, they will repeat it for any number of times, sometimes up to 200 and hope you do not give up. Remember Alamo, is the subtext of the message, or remember Robert Bruce or at least the spider. If it helps, remember the tryst with destiny speech. Yet, these disembodied voices are proof of the existence of man.
A couple of 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 (which is rather like buying a cell phone that does not take pictures), and rang up customer service. After assuring me that my call was important to them, and bringing tears to my eyes with the promise of getting back to me as soon as they had handled the complaints of the whole of northern India, I was asked: “Is the power on?”
Now this is the part I love. As if we would call up without checking if the power was on, the taxes had been paid and the gold fish fed. Of course it is, I said.
“Ah then let me connect you to our technical division,” said the voice.
The technical division (tech div, for short), 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.
I also had fun with the tech div. When they called, I said in my best disembodied voice: “If you are looking for a columnist, press 1.” Then I changed the tone and said, “If you want me to whack my toaster smartly on the side, press 2.”
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.
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