You have reached customer disservice

Column by Craig Marshall Smith


“This is customer service, how can I irritate you today?” When have I heard that before? All the time. Just this morning, as a matter of fact. I tried to enroll in a vision plan online. Instead I went into Pan's labyrinth and couldn't get out.

So I phoned and reached something called customer service. First I had to recite my name and numbers to an automated receptionist, and then a live receptionist greeted me and asked me for my name and numbers.

She told me that I was not registered. I had the registration confirmation email in front of me.

I re-registered and called again. I was asked for my ID number and I gave it to her. She said, “There should be five zeroes in front of the number.”

I said, “There aren't.”

She said, “I'm just telling you that there should be.”

I said goodbye, and tried to log in again, and was denied, because I wasn't registered. I called my bank and asked them to block auto-pays to the insurer. They did.

I called the insurer and canceled, and then wrote management and used some leftover words from a DMV experience.

I feel some compassion for them over there at the DMV. What a miserable job it must be for most of them. Maybe — maybe — five out of ten of us who go through them have positive experiences. Maybe not even five out of ten.

I know what it's like to have to face unhappiness. My C students didn't think they were C students, my D students thought I was a monster, and my F students filed grievances. My merit increases were partly based on student evaluations.

The dilemma was this. Do I stick with my standards and grade with my academic expectations, or do I inflate grades, receive higher student evaluations, and higher merit increases? I took the high road and the low merit increases.

Back to customer service. If a human being answers, I weep. Usually I have to answer a recording, and then repeat the answers to Betweena.

At least half the time, I can't understand the customer service representative. Good idea. Put the inarticulate in point-of-contact positions.

“Say what?” becomes my redundancy.

They seem to like to remove any spacing between words.


I'll say, “Please start by slowing down. I'm a little hard of hearing. I have a vegetable stuck in my good ear.”

Sometimes I don't recognize the language. It's some kind of English. I don't always catch on, though, to which kind. I'm not Professor Higgins.

They talk too fast, they're inarticulate, and they speak in off-English.

It's a good, cost saving tactic. Who wants to call customer service anymore? Not me. They fatigue us with one recorded menu after another. A friend told me, “Don't do anything. Don't say anything and don't press any numbers on your phone. Eventually you will be defaulted to a human being. It works.”

It works.

Between calls, I forget how much I dislike asking for help from some of these outfits. But at least once a week I need help or a clarification.

My vision plan experience is tops this year for being the bottom. I'd like to tell you their name. I'd like them to lose business. But I'll let them do that for themselves. Not only that, you might have a great experience with them.

Have you ever noticed online reviews that are night and day? “Worst restaurant ever” is right next to “Fabulous dining experience.”

“We still don't know what that was in the soup” is right next to “Exquisite medallions of quail.”

“This movie is for imbeciles” is right next to “My thumbs are way up.”

At least posted reviews are available. Before the Internet it was all word of mouth. We had to ask our friends what was put in the soup.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at


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