Let’s Open Our Eyes! Customer Service is Really DIY in an Ill-Fitting Disguise

I’m particularly amused by the bot with the guy-next-door voice who says, “And you can talk to me in regular sentences.” Sure thing. Here goes: “Why the f….k can’t I speak to someone who is paid to help me?” Response: “I don’t understand your question, can you try again please.” Point made.

Let’s Open Our Eyes! Customer Service is Really DIY in an Ill-Fitting Disguise
Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

When I found myself under television cords with a woman on my phone speaker giving me a litany of instructions, I realized I was no longer the customer, I was their contract employee who paid them for that privilege.

After 15 long minutes, I finally said, “You know, I don’t work for you. I’m the customer. Remember?” I hung up on the representative and her insincere apology. I wasn’t being rude; rudeness would’ve surfaced had I remained under the TV. I was tired. Tired of having to fix things myself when I call customer service. Why don’t they call it what it really is, the Do-It-Yourself Tutorial Division which may or may not include humans.

I’m particularly amused by the bot with the guy-next-door voice who says, “And you can talk to me in regular sentences.”  Sure thing. Here goes: “Why the f….k can’t I speak to someone who is paid to help me?”  Response: “I don’t understand your question, can you try again please.”  Point made.

I don’t remember the exact day and time when customer service began to die, but I think it was foreshadowed at the gas pump. When I was a kid, you could trust your car to the man who wore the star, the big bright Texaco star. And the service station attendant lived up to the promise and the jingle. He’d smile, put the gas pump into your car, sweep the car out, wipe the windshield, check the oil and tires. As the customer, you went to the soda machine or just sat there and smiled. By the 1970s, that guy was gone. We had to pump our own gas, check our own oil, and take our best guess at the tires. There was also a new crew of mean-faced cashiers at the new service stations. They seemed angry to see you walk in. I remember when my mom who learned to drive after age 50 told us she wasn’t going to pump gas. She would rather pay more for the full service. She did until it was no longer offered.

Another sign of the DIY times was ushered in by your neighborhood supermarket. By the 1990s, we all had part-time positions as grocery checkers and sackers. It takes us longer, we don’t have the microphone thingy to ask for a price check, but stores must be saving hella money by not paying us. Some of us even bring our own bags! To their credit, in most stores, we still have the option to stand in one of two lines and wait for a real checker.

But the true owners of DIY masquerading as customer service are the members of Tech Support at technology companies. Again, the word support is misleading, it is tech tutoring. You will do the actual support work. It begins with turning your device off and then back on. After that, you will be sprayed with tech jargon. That establishes who is boss and readies you to take on the role of support assistant. Before you know it, you’ve spent about 20 minutes of your valuable time following instructions to click this and switch that. Once your device is cured, you thank them as if they’ve done you a favor. They basically taught you to do it yourself. The concept of the repairman is a faint memory. From phones to computers, to TVs, you have become the support assistant, whether you wanted the job or not.

The next great eye-opener came when I bought furniture. I don’t remember the day, but I remember the shock when told, if you want it assembled, that’ll be an extra charge. My response was, “What? Do you mean that after I paid for this, you deliver it in pieces? We don’t make things in this house we buy them already made.” I cancelled the order. I now try to only shop where furniture is delivered intact, or assembly is included. In college, I changed majors a few times while trying to find myself, but furniture making wasn’t one of them.

The tradition of service to a customer wasn’t removed from our society all at once, it has had a long, slow, lingering death. I imagine a cartoon image named, Dr. Greed who injects customer service with a time released poison so that its functions diminish bit-by-bit. And his evil genius sister is the branding specialist. She has tricked us into patting ourselves on the back when we perform our own customer service. We wear DIY like a badge of pride, an accomplishment. But in reality, someone sold us an item or service that should cost less because it’s not a finished product. We are required to complete it and we also pay more for it.

I am over the DIY movement. My vendor selections have been short-listed because I don’t care to perform certain services myself. I’m not good at them. I did not choose to repair______ as a profession. A few days ago, while on the phone with tech support, I was asked to do the same task about 5 times, still no results. I hung up on the guy. That’s when I decided, I will no longer serve as the tech assistant. I will not self-checkout at the supermarket unless I have two items or less. (And you can’t self-check alcohol, so that makes it a non-starter for me). I will have to pump gas because there are no options, but I won’t buy anything in the gas station store. As a part-time gas pumper, I should get an employee discount.

And lastly, my family is not made up of the DIY-types. So, I think it would be a good idea for everyone to self-identify. We should all come up with a list of services we believe customers should never be required to perform, like snaking toilets, removing dead birds from chimneys, or assembling the million-piece toy kitchen I bought for the grandkids. A surgeon, two engineers, and a financial wizard all gave up on it after a few minutes.

Once you know your boundaries, implement them. Don’t take a job you don’t want and won’t get paid to perform. Spend money with companies who respect your business. And learn to recognize the difference between customer service and customer suckered. DIY is not your J-O-B.

Myra Jolivet is a storyteller. First a TV news anchor and reporter. Then came PR work and consulting. That's where she is today - banging her head against the wall - trying to help CEOs and political candidates tell their stories well. Myra writes a series of murder mysteries She was a kid with an imaginary friend. That says it all.