By Jug Varner

Call it “Cursed by Corporate America”… “Damn the Customers, Full Speed Ahead”… “Let ‘Em Eat Electronic Cake”… or any other title that fits, Americans have fallen prey to one of the best examples of bad public relations ever dreamed up by corporate America… and, unfortunately, it is rapidly filtering down to government entities, financial institutions, and small businesses as well.

The curse I refer to is the neoanthropic telephone communications system - or in simpler terms, “how in this hell do I find a real live person to talk with.”

You may consider this a strange rant on my part, but from my many conversations about this with a variety of people, I am not the only one who is tired of wasting valuable time selecting options, waiting on line, selecting more options, waiting on line, being disconnected and having to start over, repeating the process, and frequently never talking with a live human being. I
n the rare instance when they do answer, more often than not they have to transfer the call to someone else. The odds are high for another disconnect before talking to another humen.

The only solution I have found is to learn each company’s process, figure out my own shortcuts to by-pass as much of their electronic blather as possible, and write it down in case I have to call them again. That way it only wastes about five minutes or so before I talk to live humans - unless of course I get their voice mail telling me he or she can’t answer, and to leave a message. But, on rare occasions they actually do return the call. Maybe not that day, but eventually!

I get a lot of negative vibrations about this ever-growing bad PR practice, as if these businesses are trying to tell me:

  • “Maybe if we confuse him enough, he will go away and stop bothering us” or,
  • “Our time is much more valuable than his time. Let him wait” or,
  • “It’s just another customer with a problem we don’t want to be bothered about,” or,
  • “Boy, this high dollar system is a lot more expensive than paying a few telephone answering clerks, but it’s worth it.”

Whatever happened to the old fashioned “the customer comes first” concept? There is little or none of this in today’s business and commerce, obviously. Most businesses don’t even take the time to train their people in courtesy, prompt service, knowing their job, or in good customer relations. It seems to be a lost art.

Part of the overall problem may be bottom-line-driven, and the corporate thinking that it costs too much to provide the personal touch. Maybe if they didn’t pay their CEOs and upper level management so much, they would have enough left over to pay the people needed at the bottom rung who talk directly with the public. Part of it may be that many of these companies are so large that there IS NO personal touch anymore, and have so much business they can’t take care of it properly… or even care whether or not YOU are their customer.

Go into any large department store today, for example, and try to find a clerk to assist you. They are a scarce commodity (except at the perfume and beauty counters) and usually poorly trained, if trained at all. I’m not sure their immediate superiors are very well trained, either. When you do find a clerk, he or she may not understand nor speak English very well, and most have no idea about what is in stock or about the item you are interested in buying. It’s almost as bad public relations as are the telephone mummies.)

Of course, the best solution is to stop trading with these businesses, but you may be stuck with a lot of them for various reasons, and the rest are probably just as bad or soon will be at the present rate of “monkey see, monkey do“ corporate America.

All this could change if enough consumers stopped supporting it.