Monday, 25 July 2016

Customer care: a fantasy


The fantasy façade of ‘Customer Care’.

When the computer became commonplace, some of us were naïve enough to think this heralded the future - those expected halcyon days the boffins talked about in the 1970s, that by the end of the 20th century technology would ensure we’d all be working three day weeks and spend the other 4 seeking leisure activities. But these were the sad dreams of people who wear tinfoil hats, learn to speak Klingon and claim ‘Jedi Knight’ if someone asks their religion. So whilst they still live happily in the hermetically sealed world of their X-Box or PlayStation, the rest of us realise that all technology has done, especially in the field of human-to-human communications, is to obliterate soul, feeling, emotion and manners. As for freeing up time, the reverse is true. Even an English word like ‘Application’ now takes too long to say; it’s become an ‘App’. Human endeavour is now expected to swell like sawdust in a jam-jar of water; even the old routine of ‘going to lunch’ for anyone below senior management level in most offices is deemed ‘for wimps’; a sub sandwich and a bottle of water will see you through the afternoon, because under no circumstances must you take your eyes off that laptop.

One of the most visual examples of this new work-based Puritanism is the cardboard cup of coffee. It has become de rigueur now if you want to impress your boss or show your fellow workers how ‘busy-busy-busy’ you are to walk along the pavement to arrive at your office clutching your £2.20 cardboard cup from Starbucks or Costa. After all, who wants the civility of a cup of coffee in a china cup made freshly in your office kitchenette? (If you have one, other than a vending machine).

But because humans have stopped listening to humans, other than through the Troll’s ear trumpet of e-mail, the purchasers of capitalism’s myriad products, from food to a Ford Focus, have found a strange wall between them and the anonymous producers. It’s called ‘Customer Care’, and in most cases, that’s a complete oxymoron. ‘Deafening silence’ is a good example of an oxymoron. And the term ‘moron’ also seems apt.

To help who, exactly? The shareholders?

Over the years I’ve had many battles with so-called ‘customer care’ departments. Virgin Media, for example, who for months continued asking me for ever increasing amounts of money, even though I had ended my services, in the prescribed manner; nothing, including evidence of my non-connection and resignation from their clutches could prevent them from pressing on with their demands, even a debt collection agency entered the fray. A letter to Richard Branson’s London office finally resulted in an apology. The same with a ‘free’ trial for three months with a Website company owned by a European media giant who will remain nameless. I tried the ‘free offer’ pulled out before the trial expired, then suffered months of letters, threats of bailiffs, money taken from my account, rude communications but in the end, when I threw it all on the desk of their CEO in Germany it stopped - because I was the customer, I had stuck by their rules and they were deliberately wrong in their ‘profit at any price’ chicanery, and I was right.

So what about the poor people who are not articulate, creative in their battle plans, those more timid, who mistakenly imagine the words ‘customer’ and ‘care’ mean something? The very old who grew up in a world where being threatened for money was the darkest anathema possible? They must succumb to fear imposed by these immoral, un-listening corporate buccaneers.

And now I stand on the cusp of a new fight with the car manufacturers, Vauxhall. I own a Zafira B model and these cars have been prone to bursting into flames due to a fault in the heating and ventilation system. The car has been re-called for ‘rectification’ work.

After the second recall the air conditioning refused to work. When I complained I was told that the items they’d worked on had no connection to the air conditioning. I was told, however, that it could be fixed for £345 because the car required a new AC condenser. My local mechanic, a very skilled motor engineer, could find no fault with the condenser, but eventually, as the weather improved, I decided to bite the bullet and pay the Vauxhall dealer’s service department to replace the condenser. They did the ‘work’, I paid the bill, and was then told that this wouldn’t help to restore the air conditioning as the car required ‘a new compressor’ at £693.95. I was appalled, and wrote to them asking why they had not tested the condenser to establish whether or not it actually did need replacing, and then called me to tell me what was actually needed? It is now six days since the letter went off, and not an e-mail, a phone call; ‘customer care’ in action again. Stage 2 was to send copies of the letter to Vauxhall’s  ‘Customer Care’ bases at Luton and Greenford. These were sent first class recorded delivery. Result: zilch. The car now goes into a local garage later this week to have the compressor fitted, not at the Vauxhall dealer’s £693.95 but a more honest £445, including parts and labour. How will this coming battle pan out? I have very little hope of anything positive. As some trolls on the Zafira Fires Face Book page have pointed out (38 of them have had a similar problem with air con not working after a recall) I was blatantly stupid to pay them the £345 in the first place. I have egg on my face and for once the Trolls  are right, but we stubbornly carry on in the world of commerce imagining that we can ‘trust’ people to do the right thing.

So, simple though it would be for someone to pick up a phone or send an e-mail to re-assure me that my letters have been received and will be acted upon, no-one working under the banner ‘customer care’ can even think that this might be a good idea. This is because the essence of modern commerce is now based in pure cash-gathering greed. Give us your money, now f**k off. It’s up to us to repel these pirates and freebooters, but it’s all so very, very wearying and tiresome. Welcome to rip-off UK plc.

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