May I Help You?

I would say my favorite job was back in 1968 when I worked for Macy’s on 34th Street while going to college.  I worked two nights a week and all day Saturday and netted about $22.  I loved the job.  I took orders on the phone.  I loved the different forms — the order forms, the return forms, the exchange forms.  All this was done without a computer.  Everything was hand written.  I had a large loose-leaf book which contained all the items Macy’s advertised in each of the area newspapers.  When someone called, I looked for the ad and filled out the paperwork for the order.

The only thing I didn’t like was when I had to assure every customer that their item would definitely be delivered for Christmas, without actually knowing it would be.  Nowadays, retailers give you a tracking number so you’ll know when to expect your item. I was very good at my job and would have stayed longer at Macy’s if they didn’t want me to join the union.

I write about this because I seldom get the kind of service I provided in 1968 from telephone salespeople I speak to nowadays.

First of all, more often than not, I’m initially prompted to decide whether I want to proceed in English.  Hello?  I’m in the United States of America.  I’m not in Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, orSpain.  When did this nonsense actually begin anyway?  I wonder if I was in Guatemala, would I be asked if I wanted to proceed in English?

I don’t recall the last time I actually got a human being on the phone without having to answer several questions and required to press 1 for yes and 2 for no far too many times before being transferred to a live person.

Before you get to a real person, though, you have to plug in certain information so the computer or whoever is listening confirms you are who you say you are.  Then when the real person comes on the phone, more often than not you have to repeat all the information over again.

I have a dear friend who prefers doing business on the phone rather than on the internet because he believes he’s helping someone keep their job.  My friend’s a good guy and what he’s doing is commendable but sometimes, in my experience, I put the phone down after talking with someone and scratch my head and say, “did that person actually do what I asked?”  I love making airline reservations on or ordering something on because it’s quick and easy and extremely accurate and not subject to human error.

Here’s a perfect example.  We recently rented two vans from Enterprise Rent-a-Car.  Our original reservation had us picking one van up on Thursday and the other on Friday.  No problem.  Our plans changed, and I called to change the reservation so that we’d pick up both vans on Friday.  By the time I finally got off the phone with the customer rep, I had a sinking feeling and knew both the vans wouldn’t be available on Friday.  We decided to physically go back to the Enterprise location to confirm the reservation and, sure enough, I was right to have misgivings.  Although the clerk didn’t want to acknowledge that his co-worker had screwed up our reservation, it was clear from all the typing he was doing, the changes I requested were either never made or messed up completely.  Having our Friday-to-Monday reservation in writing, we happily left.

Here’s a recent telephone conversation with a clerk in a liquor store in Colorado:

Clerk:      Yeah?

Me:  Do you carry Lagavulin scotch?

Clerk:      No.

Me:  Thank you very much.

Clerk:      Yeah.

Can you believe this?  And I’m sure this guy is complaining that he only earns minimum wage.  In my world, he wouldn’t have a job.

Fortunately, I do speak with some wonderful salespeople and readily commend them when they do a great job.  But, every once in a while, I get someone that is just rude, incompetent or just doesn’t care.  As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to do a job, no matter what the pay rate, you should do it properly.  Otherwise, leave.

I don’t get it, but if you do, God bless you.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
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  • Will Swoboda

    Good morning Leona,
    I too like good sales help and try to be as understanding as possible when dealing with a young person just starting out in the work world. The following is a real conversation.
    At a KFC:
    Employee: Yea
    Me: I’ll take a pint of Cole slaw.
    Employee: Large, medium or small?
    Me: ( suddenly realizing that maybe there was a difference, said.) Large.
    This is a true story.

  • Ron F

    When we decided that price is the primary factor in making purchasing decisions, we also gave up on customer service. If we want historically low telephone rates, we give up something in customer service. Airlines offer better fares on-line than they do by telephone. Telephone service is extremely inexpensive but it comes at the price of inconvenience when we want customer service. We used to get great customer service from small retailers but many went out of business because customers would go in to get product information and then buy the item from a large box store or on-line. On the other hand, we have always received good service from hotel call centers for reservations and from Southwest Airlines customer service.

  • DOOM161

    I think the same number of people are involved with an online order as with a phone order.

    I can’t stand when someone doesn’t speak English and they put them in a position in which he has to deal with customers. I was recently at a McDonald’s and the cashier spoke so little English that I couldn’t explain to her that I didn’t want hash browns. So I had to leave.

    I recently placed an order with an internet company, and they shipped it to an address that I had removed from my profile several months before. It took the Better Business Bureau to get my money back, because this company really wanted it to be my fault.

    • Jim W

      With all due respect I disagree

      It is incorrect to think that the same number of people are involved with online orders as phone orders. For one thing start with the person taking your order. Now in the case of simultaneous orders there are as many people in the equation as orders being placed.

      Once code is written it is over but the code that makes the site is the same code for the person entering the order on the phone.

      There are a lot of jobs being lost!

  • A. K. Steele

    Great plug for…and when mistakes happen and you have to speak with a live rep (based in America), they also do everything possible to keep you as a customer. More than once, I’ve sent Godiva chocolate back to the gate agent for outstanding service (with a letter of praise to the company).

    Ditto for

    Companies should realize how much business comes from loyalty as a result of good service, possibly more than by advertising. I pinch pennies, but some companies are so good that I don’t bother to shop around anymore.

  • Glen Stambaugh

    The biggest sin on your list of transgressions for me is having to reconfirm my ID to the human after having just completed that with the “automated” system. GRRRR!