Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Stevie wonders

Steven Schindler

Special to the Village News

Do you remember when the utility companies and retail stores had actual neighborhood customer service offices, counters and on-site departments? And there were human beings there? And you could go up to them with a bill or letter in your hand and show it to them and ask things like, “What does this mean?” Or “Why was I charged for this?” Or “I had canceled this service months ago, so please stop charging me.” And most of the time, the human behind the counter would say things like, “Oh, there seems to be a mistake here, let me correct it.” Or “Let me call someone right now and get to the bottom of this.” Or perhaps, “I’m terribly sorry for this inconvenience, I’ll remove this late fee.”

Sounds crazy, right? Now, things are a little different. Customer service has become customer avoidance. First of all, there’s a new hidden, top secret, mechanism to get in touch with the company. You must go online, search through layers and layers of tabs, pull downs and screens, until you feel like Super Mario chasing mushrooms and gold coins jumping through hoops to achieve the next level. And what is that secret key that will unlock the mysteries of contacting the company? The customer service phone number.

OK, now you’ve got the phone number; here comes the fun part. You punch in the numbers and hear this: “Please listen to all the menu options because some of the options have changed.” Do you really think that they think you remember the options from last time? Of course not. They just want you to prepare yourself for the hell that is about to take up the next hour or two, or more, of total avoidance, misdirections, hang-ups, transfers and callbacks that never happen, which could drag on for days, weeks or even months. I know because it has happened to me many times.

Then comes, “Your call is important to us.” Really? Is that why I have to listen to a list of menu options that are longer than the phone information line at a 25 screen multiplex movie theater with 25 different movies playing every two hours?

Next, comes information that will have you screaming louder and longer than a roller coaster car load of teenagers on the SeaWorld Electric Eel’s first drop; “Your wait time will be (pause)… 3 hours and 37 minutes.” Be sure to tell your family members in other rooms that everything’s OK, and you’re not being attacked by an ax murderer.

After you’ve waited 3 hours and 37 minutes, rejoice. You hear a different distorted rendition of some electronic noise that means something is going to happen. What will it be? Another recording telling you to descend into the next level of hell in Dante’s Inferno, because a representative will soon be with you? Or perhaps another message asking you to return to the main menu?

But wait, you hear a voice. A human voice. Hallelujah! Your long journey is about to end, and all your problems are about to be solved. That is until you realize by listening to the one-syllable replies to your questions that the person on the other end of the line who picked up your call is a total moron. You explain your problem from the very beginning, reading from your notes and the dozens of emails and letters you’ve received, due to their error, which takes about 20 minutes to explain. You pause, waiting for a reply, only to hear one of the following: Hold on while I transfer you; Distorted music again or the most dreaded sound of all, the hang-up click. Now it’s back to square one.

I’ve battled with a certain cellphone/internet company – one of the many companies on the “horizon” – for weeks at a time. After following their instructions to a “T,” I still received threatening emails and letters, telling me I owed $375 for a piece of equipment I had returned, in the box they provided, with the label they provided and sent back the same day I received it. I argued for weeks with MLB.TV and an internet provider for being blacked out of games because even though I live in San Diego County, my internet provider’s server was in Los Angeles County. Huh? I know, I know.

Are you on “auto-pay” for some subscription services? Good luck when you want to “un-auto” that one.

My wife kept getting told her order would be delivered any day now, for weeks and months, until an email said – surprise –the company had gone out of business months ago, and she was lucky because there’s a class action suit and she might get half of the money back. Just fill out these 10 forms.

Here are a few phone calls that will elicit more screams than “The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre:” airlines. Medicare. Social Security. your healthcare provider billing department. your computer/laptop/internet/cellphone company/streaming service tech support department. And countless other companies who have devised systems to make you work for a resolution to any problem no matter how big or how small, until you just finally give up. Is it due to incompetence or is it a new business strategy?

If you want to feel better about screaming, cursing and losing your cool while calling these customer service avoidance departments, just search on YouTube for “Angry People vs. Computers.” Parental discretion is advised due to language, violence and sheer stupidity.

Steven Schindler’s latest novel is “Fallout Shelter.”


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