Thoughts On Complaining!

One of the cornerstones of our consumer society is customer service.  That’s that horde of underpaid/under-loved folks on the other end of the telephone whose sole mission in life is to listen to you complain.  But they haven’t always been there.  In fact, for 99% of human history, the world worked on the Roman adage: Caveat Emptor.  (Let the buyer beware!)  Then, in the early 20th Century, along came a guy named Harry Selfridge (British department store/Netflix TV series) and, in a moment of sheer madness, coined the phrase, “The customer is always right.”  Customer service was born.  Since then, the industry has grown exponentially, and today billions are spent every year trying to answer the question, “What’s your problem?”  Unfortunately, that’s very difficult because most people don’t know how to complain properly.  So here are a few ideas that might help you the next time you feel you’ve been ill-used by capitalism.  Good luck!

1 – Be honest (with yourself) – Do you actually have a complaint?  The truth is the vast majority of people who phone customer service don’t – and they know it.  They’re usually frustrated, angry, naturally grouchy and sometimes even dishonest.  Most people just want to vent, and customer service is a captive audience that can’t tell them to shut up and go away.  So, before you waste a lot of time (mostly your own) make sure your problem is legit.  (Helpful hint: you were the one putting on the brag about how smart you were buying a cheaper product!)

2 — Collect your information – If you bought something, you have a receipt.  Find it!  It has all the information you need – who, what, where, when and how much.  (Nobody cares why. See point 3.)  Without the facts (readily available) you’re goin’ to sound like an idiot, and that’s not going to help your cause. (Helpful hint: no receipt?  Your life just got a whole lot more difficult.)

3 — Be specific/Be brief – Nobody cares why you bought a new toaster– especially not the stranger on the other end of the phone.  They’ve heard more rambling stories (eight hours a day/five days a week) than you’ve had hot meals.  So, unless your previous toaster was abducted by aliens, forget the tale of woe, and get to the point!

4 — Don’t be a bully – Remember the person you’re talking to is trapped, and they can’t fight back.  They don’t own the company and they haven’t personally set out to cheat you.  Nor were they put on this Earth by Satan to thwart you.  Trying to push them around just because you can is not a good look — and that includes swearing, being vulgar, calling them names and/or threatening them or the company they work for.  Besides, when was the last time you went out of your way to help someone who just called you an asshole?

5 — Offer a solution – “So what are you going to do about it?” is not a solution.  It’s a playground challenge.  Here’s the deal.  If you haven’t figured out what you hope to achieve from calling customer service before you pick up the phone, don’t pick up the phone.

6 — Be reasonable – I had a friend who was a travel agent (back in the day when such things existed) and she told me a customer once called her and demanded a replacement vacation because it rained the week he was in Mexico.  Grab a brain, boys and girls: you’re not going to get a new house just because your doorbell breaks.  The one thing you need to do throughout this whole process is remain on the reality train.

Because:

7 – The Harsh Reality — The minimum wage voice you’re talking to has no authority to do anything except maybe – MAYBE – offer you a replacement or give you your money back – never both.  Normally, they’re just there to gather your information (see items 2 and 3) give you a bit of a verbal cuddle, and pass it all up the ladder.  That’s it!  So, the only rule of customer service is if, at any time, anyone suggests they’re going to give you more than that, take it, say thanks and get on with your life.

Everybody Works

work

Everybody works.  Some work harder than others, some work smarter than others, but as each of us wanders along life’s incredible journey, we all have a relentless series of jobs to do.  Just to clarify – I’m not talking about gainful employment; I’m talking about all those nasty little tasks that haunt our otherwise leisured existence — everything from filling out income tax forms to assembling a Fridekgloben bookcase from Ikea.  This is the work that torments our souls.

Having survived on this planet for – uh – a number of years, I’ve done my share of personal chores and, without bragging, I’ve gained some valuable experience.  Here are just a few bits and bobs from what I’ve learned along the way.

1 – Every job takes longer than you think.  No matter how simple it looks or how comprehensively you’ve prepared, the task at hand is going to eat up more minutes than you bargained for.  (See items 4, 5, 6, 7 and sometimes 8 for a detailed explanation.)

2 – The rule of quarters.  No matter what you do, the first 75% of the job takes 25% of the time and the last 25% takes 75% — or more.

3 – Do as much as possible before lunch — cuz after lunch, you’re going to be useless.

4 – Something you need isn’t going to be there.  Whether it’s a particular medical receipt, a pinch of coriander, an account number or an oddly shaped one-use-only tool, there will be one item, that’s absolutely necessary to the task, which you either don’t have or can’t find.  This means you have to stop, search or go buy it – no other choice.  And, BTW, this never happens at the beginning of the adventure but always more than halfway through — when you’ve got everything torn up, half assembled, disassembled and/or spread out all over hell.

5 – There will be an essential piece of information missing.  Assembly instructions are notorious for this – the placement of Lock Washer #3 is a mystery known only to God.  Meanwhile, the Federal Government will not accept your tax return without an entry in Box 906a even though its purpose is a bigger secret than the contents of Area 51.  But the very worst are online forms that demand an encyclopedia of personal information and, after you’ve entered it all, flash the big red “Error” warning at you — while slyly refusing to tell you where the error occurred.

6 – The thing that’s supposed to fit … won’t.  Carpenters and plumbers know this and are skilled in Improvise, Adapt and Overcome, but the rest of us are utterly stunned when the last bolt’s too big, the connecting rod’s too short or the brand new muffin pans don’t fit in the oven.  The result is an extended period of swearing and weeping.

7 – The experience you gain from one task does not translate to anything else.  What you learned trimming the hedge doesn’t help you buy car insurance online.  Painting the porch and making a soufflé are straight chalk and cheese.  Every task demands a particular expertise, so whatever you attempt to do (unless you’re a poly-skilled professional, or spend your life watching YouTube) you’re going to waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel.

And finally:

8 – You can’t get there from here. – This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens regularly enough to be included here.  Basically, there’s always a danger that the first touch on any project will set off a chain of disasters, each more expensive and time-consuming than the last.  The leaking faucet that eventually becomes a $5,000 plumbing job.  The birthday cake that ends up with a new stove.  The computer upgrade that resets your Netflix account to Serbia and your banking information to Good Shepherd Savings and Loan in Azerbaijan.  Seriously, I have a friend who tried to buy a paper shredder and is locked out of Amazon forever.  (Even they don’t know why.)

Yeah, we all have jobs to do, but I’ve discovered that only paid professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists get anything out of these mundane tasks.  The rest of us just have to grit and bear it.

 

Writer’s Block — A Cure

writing a blog

I realize that talking to a bunch of bloggers about writing is like trying to teach a dolphin how to swim.  (It isn’t really necessary and annoys the hell out of the dolphin.)  However, here I am because I know that anyone who’s ever touched pen to paper has suffered from writer’s block, writer’s cramp and — that worst of all literary maladies — writer’s fatigue.  I’m sure even the great Billy Shakespeare sat around, on more than one occasion, twiddling his quill and thinking, “I’m going to quit this bullshit and sign on with Drake.”  (Sir Francis, not the other guy.)  So, in the interest of keeping literature alive in these troubled times, here are a few tips to get the ink flowing again, when, for some reason, it gets stuck in the pen.  (I know, I know!  Nobody writes with a pen anymore – but I like the metaphor.)

Walk Away – It took Margaret Mitchell 10 years to write Gone with the Wind.  Turning your computer off for a couple of hours isn’t going to kill anyone.

Make a Cup of Tea – The Brits, who are the most literary people in the world, use tea as a cure-all for everything from a broken leg to a totally botched Brexit.  And they’ve been doing it since John Milton versed out Paradise Lost in the 17th century.  (That’s a lot of words under Tower Bridge, my friend!)  What tea does is slow you down.  It separates you from the real world.  It gives you a wall or a window to stare at.  It’s warm, it’s cozy and it forces you to think.  Which leads us to Item #3

It’s About You – Instead of trying to forge a Brave New World out of thin air, you need to get back to basics.  Start with you, because even though you might be the most kale salad, whole wheat, Friday night Netflix, middle-class-dull person in the history of ordinary … life has happened to you.  You have memories.  A red house.  A stupid Tweet.  A grocery clerk.  Morgan Freeman’s smile.  Grab one (it doesn’t matter which one) and write it down.

Ask The Questions – Every story from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower is merely who, what, where, when and why.  It’s not brain science or rocket surgery – that’s all there is.  Answer those questions and you have a story but …

Don’t Paint A Picture – Insisting on the exact right word ad infinitum eats up creative energy, so keep it simple.  Lose the adverbs; lose the adjectives.  This isn’t War and Peace, for God sake!  Call it a sleigh not a seasonal horse-drawn transportation device.  Less is more.  Tell the tale.

Some Things Don’t Matter – I don’t know how long it took Herman Melville to come up with “Call me Ismael” but he could have written “Call me Brenda.” and Moby Dick would still be unreadable.  So, don’t waste time sweating the details.  Your job is to get words on paper.

And finally:

Remember – If you have the audacity to string words together, you have a responsibility to your audience.  Because, as Galadriel said to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, “This task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.”

And that’s a sin.