Customer “No Service”
by Grant Hall
Years and Years Ago
Got it! From Mr. “K,” the author of textbooks on Business Statistics. Reputed to have turned down huge management
salaries—from GM, IBM, everyone—so he could teach and continue with his research. And now, he was going to
recommend me. I was walking on air.
I used to sit in his office for hours. Mostly, I listened. And learned. Consuming endless cups of coffee and smoking as
he thumbed through trade periodicals—Forbes, Business Week, and others—we talked. He never missed a syllable,
sometimes commenting on my lack of participation in class. Does he know I’m scared? Shy?
“Lunch is a waste of time. Americans consume too much and read too little.” These were his most-repeated phrases.
Right brain, left brain? I don’t know. He just had brains. And he was the best teacher I ever had.
In the 1980s and before, it was fashionable to be smart. The American education renaissance-of-sorts that began
sometime in the early 70s—“no one should fail”—was in full swing. Intellectuals were heroes. MBAs were prestigious.
Learning was “in.” And we had service in America.
Bank managers sat at their desks, front and center, for all to see; notified customers by telephone of wire transfer
receipts; and encouraged business men and women to build relationships. The U.S. dollar was strong.
Manufacturers stood behind their products and services, and the great American dream was reality—it seemed.
Service was important. And people could read, write, and make decisions. Do something—even if it’s wrong. Everyone
graduated high school.
Fast Forward to Real Time in the U.S.A.
I’m shopping for a car. The young man appears to be in his mid-20s and looks the part of a car salesman. He can’t
spell “Grant Hall.” Who couldn’t spell “Grant Hall”? The grip on his pen gives away his lack of familiarity with a writing
His grip is more like holding a knife than a pen. I wonder. Penmanship.
He rushes to get a card for me before I go. I never hear from him again.
Buying Food in America
The butcher shop is less crowded than usual. My timing is good. A young man asks for my order. “I’d like a whole
sirloin cut into ¾ pound steaks, 2 per package.” A blank stare meets my gaze. Again? I say nothing. He turns to ask
the lady from the counter, who leaves customers standing with packages in hand. My face has to reflect my
“He’s new,” she says. Fourth-grade fractions, third-grade math. She signals for the butcher in the back and returns
to her cash register. I stand for anther five minutes. I thought my timing was GOOD. Once he’s cleared his table, the
guy from the back enters and stands behind the case. We recognize each other. I start again. Repeat everything.
He knows. He takes the order, packages it perfectly, and I leave. I don’t go back—ever.
“Investing” in America
In the mid-80s, five stockbrokers staffed the now huge major brokerage firm. Young, new, and hungry for information,
I’d call—day, night, anytime, 24/7—and get one of the five. I’d ask anything, and whoever was on the phone would
answer my questions. No hold time. No music or shifting me around to supervisors. Just plain good service. Always.
They’ve changed the software—again—I notice. It’s cumbersome. Less attractive. Why fix what isn’t broken? For
whatever reason, the trend line fails to delete. Ah, a “live chat” service. I write an eight-word question about the trend
line. An automatic response appears. Five minutes later, a name comes up. He says to “wait” for a response. Eleven
minutes later, I call them. Music. Ads and repeats of the previous day’s news. Interesting—if you’ve been living in a
cave. After punching in the account number and the # sign, a live voice comes on. After the password and my “story,”
I’m on hold again. Another voice. She’s from somewhere. I tell her about the charting problem. She promises to let me
speak to a tech person. Before I complete my sentence, more music. A guy’s voice this time. No, he’s not tech
support. Apologies—more apologies. I ask, “why” they don’t know their own program.
“Wrong department,” I’m told. I let it go. Just leave it undone. I begin looking for another brokerage firm. Seriously,
Covered Under Warranty—in America
It’s an expensive piece of equipment. We bought it for business use, and it’s difficult to turn loose of it—even for a
few days. Covered under warranty, there are glitches everywhere.
One dealer said they were too busy. Another hinted that they were never paid by the company for warranty work.
No, they didn’t want to do it. Dealer number three promises to put it on their calendar. We meet. I give him the file.
The whole thing—trip, meeting, phones—takes half a day. Six weeks later—and not a word.
A day or two later I drive a few miles out of my way. He apologizes. What’s this apology business?
Apparently, another employee dropped the ball and left him with no paperwork, he says. I leave him a second copy
of the file. I give him the benefit of the doubt. We shake hands, and I leave.
A month later and nada. Again, I make a trip out to their office. General manger, my “previous guy,” and I all sit
down—eventually. I’m last in line. I’m wrong about “previous guy.” He dropped the ball. I explain that it’s not a job I
expect is suited for their company. I call the manufacturer, for three days in succession. Can’t reach Jim.
The attorney and I talk after three rings. “Yes” to going outside of the “warranty network,” but be prepared to “fight.”
This is your American customer “Service.”
Getting It Done—Or Not
As one stumbles about trying to reach invisible people on the telephone, only to be connected to never-ending
voicemail, it’s easy to get discouraged, throw up your hands, and threaten to quit. I did that once.
Six of ten websites sampled in my one-hour “research study” in preparation for this article did not have a telephone
number listed. I emailed ten sites and have received three emails back in two days. What to do? People can’t read;
people can’t spell; butchers can’t divide, add, or subtract well enough to sell orders of meat by themselves; car
salesmen can’t spell “Grant Hall;” brokers don’t know how to fix their software so as to make trend lines operate; and
warranties may not be “real warranties”—and if they are, you may not be able to get anyone to repair the machinery.
And if this doesn’t convince you that there’s something terribly wrong with the service in America, I don’t know what will.
I’m tired. I have exhausted myself today without accomplishing very much, so I think I’ll just go to bed and dream about
the 1980s and before—when we had service in America.
Hall, Grant, Privacy Crisis: Identity Theft Prevention Plan and Guide to Anonymous Living, James Clark King, LLC,
Available as an e-book at: www.PrivacyCrisis.com.
Copyright © March 24, 2008, James Clark King, LLC.