Service of Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

January 29th, 2015

Categories: Customer Care, Customer Service, Customers, Technology, Uncategorized

In one day two things happened that made me wonder about customer service programs that don’t take into consideration routine customer habits.

Pennies Wise

Does the person who configures the electronic customer service systems for large corporations think about where people might be and what information they’d have access to when they call to request a repair? Not everyone is at the office or at home with a file cabinet filled with past bills handy.

During an ice storm our phone at the house went dead. When, the next day, we could get out and into the car by treading carefully on a glossy rink on flagstones worthy of Rockefeller Center, successfully coaxing the car up an icy driveway slope to the road, we were able to call Verizon to report the problem by mobile phone. [Verizon cell phones don’t work at the house so we drove to a place they do.]

Before we could speak with a person—I began slamming 0000000 to get out of the computer voice maze that wasn’t in the slightest advancing the cause to repair my dead phone—the irritating recorded voice asked for our account number. I didn’t have it with me. Next it asked for the amount of the last bill. I hadn’t memorized this either.

Does the person who set up the system, meant to reduce live staff time, commit such info to memory? What happened to “what’s the name of your first pet?” or “your mother’s maiden name?”

I was fuming as I waited to speak with a customer service representative. The call should have taken a second and I’d already been on hold for 600. I was, after all, reporting that the service wasn’t working. So was this the best time to alert me that the rep might tell me about additional services?

I explained to the live person–who may have been sitting in sunny Florida and unaware of icy conditions in upstate NY–that the outage clearly was weather-related and nothing to do with “our equipment” and she insisted that someone be home for a technician to come to the house. So I made an appointment.

Meanwhile, I called the house and heard a constant busy signal for a few more hours. Finally the phone rang and our answering machine kicked in. Hooray! A working phone.

When I called to cancel the appointment I did it through the voicemail system. The only question the recorded voice asked was why I’d cancelled: “Was your equipment the reason for the failure?” I hollered “NO.” There were no options such as “The phone works now.”

Much Ado About My Package

I asked to send an order to my office. On Sunday I received a notification that the USPS had tried to deliver it on Saturday and nobody was there to sign for it. On Saturday the USPS doesn’t send mail to any office in this 18-floor midtown Manhattan building—so why would it send a package?

I clicked the link in the notification to fill out the info needed to get someone to redeliver the package and after doing that I clicked something else on the form where I learned that the USPS doesn’t redeliver to this building.

The next morning I visited our 10017 post office, a big one next to Grand Central Station, on 44th and Lexington Avenue. A helpful postal worker punched in the 17 tracking numbers in a computer on the floor and said, “It’s at 10022.” I asked for the address of that post office. “You can’t go there—it’s not open to the public.” I told him that it says on line that the USPS won’t redeliver to 228 East 45th Street. He said, “Wait. There’s nothing you can do but wait.” So I did. And after all of that, the package arrived with the mail the next business day.

Technology without thought doesn’t save staff time and it doesn’t help customers.

How can a company like Verizon that handles incredible amounts of technology accept a  customer service telephone application that is customer tone deaf and doesn’t free up its live staff? What was the point of the misleading USPS online information and links other than to cause me to waste time?

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10 Responses to “Service of Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes”

  1. Martha Takayama Said:

    I found your latest post very refreshing and even gratifying!

    I don’t know how to emphasize how much I identify with your experiences, am bewildered by the same questions you ask, and sympathize with your frustration and loss of time (and energy).

    Over the years that may husband and have used Verizon I have been mystified by the inefficiency, limitations, incapacity and general deficiencies of the company and its systems of “customer service”. The usual drill starts with multiple unsuccessful repetition of requested information or pressing of it into the non-responsive keys. After many attempts at pressing “O”, if a human being comes on the line the caller is invariably put on hold or transferred to a wrong department.

    Otherwise if a human being engages in conversation the caller is invariably cut-off accidentally or deliberately before ANYTHING can be resolved! Verizon raises Incompetence to a high art form. I have questioned on more than one occasion why the system is like outposts of the Amazon region in the’1950’s. I have not been able to unravel any of the incredible lack of thought and planning as well as of basic engineering and computer science skills that reign in this empire. It certainly seems to put us at an amazing disadvantage as a people.

    I am more charitable about the chronically understaffed and shrinking Post Office. I do think that it is very short-staffed and poorly run, however, there seems to be a long-standing general abandonment of interest in making the Post Office efficient, up to date, or fully integrated into the modern world that has been leaving it to deteriorate as all kinds of deals are made with for profit companies to take over its functions. There is of course no point in the USPS using misleading information, but then I cannot consider Amazon as totally without fault. I have many misgivings about its ability to make available unvetted choices like this one. Furthermore, my attempts to communicate in a reasonably efficient or realistic manner with Amazon via email or with a human being are as filled with frustration and irritation as anything with Verizon.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The instances I mention are routine and uncomplicated. It takes common sense, not technology, to fix them. I’d like to know what the background is of those in charge of these projects. I consistently get the feeling that they are people who have neither phones that break down nor packages that get delivered when they are not at the office or at home.

    As for Amazon, I have a happy story that I will write about in a future post.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    This is a two way street. I’ve been out of phone/electric & etc. service, and turned psychedelic colors while waiting to get help. Now let’s consider the reps, overwhelmed by angry calls and doing their best to accommodate whenever possible, while taking abuse from angry customers.

    I worked temporarily for General Electric during a heat wave. The language that crossed the phone wires is both memorable and unprintable. Think of what you want to say to the helpless person on the other end. He/she is only able to report the problem, not solve it, and is unable to take on one complaint at a time.

    If customers would only take a moment to think of who they are speaking to, and use the same consideration to the individual taking the call, that person might be in a position to put the more thoughtful customer at the top of the line. Screaming has its uses, but not here.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My gripe isn’t with the postal worker who couldn’t help me or the live Verizon worker I eventually reached. It is with the person who wrote on the USPS website that the postal service doesn’t redeliver to my office building causing me to waste time to go to the post office at which my package supposedly was.

    It was the automated Verizon phone service that asked me for my account number and the amount of my last bill–the actual person didn’t do that.

    After being sent on wild goose chases and having to wade through useless automated questions, no wonder people loose it once they reach a live person. I don’t condone such behavior but I think that the corporations set themselves/their employees, up for it.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Go to the top. A certified letter along w/ccs to those capable of action often works. Politicians are effective, especially during an election year.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Good advice Lucrezia!

  7. DManzaluni Said:

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    That about sums up far too many peoples’ experience with customer service that tries to avoid providing any.

  9. GBS Said:

    Almost since the dawn of the industrial revolution, American business has been driven by one all-encompassing goal, and no other: make as much money as you can, no matter how. It follows that one of the surest ways to do this is by decreasing the expense of customer service.

    How can you do that? Shift responsibility, as far as you can and more, for the care and maintenance of any product or service from the seller to the buyer. First, make it as difficult as possible for your customer to complain by installing a “press one, press two” answering system on your telephone. If you make your system complicated enough, he may eventually even give up and go away. Then, if he does eventually succeed in breaking through the barrier to talk to you, make sure to tell him, in the politest possible way that whatever went wrong was either his or somebody else’s fault, not yours. Next, if he still insists, and is nice, feed him a lot of unintelligible, complicated gibberish about how he, not you, can fix whatever it is. And, if he still insists on insisting, make him a slick sales pitch to sell him a new whatever it is, because his old one that doesn’t work is already obsolete even though you sold it to him just last week.

    Whenever the clouds are darkest, there is a ray of sunlight. I had to call our insurance broker, who works for one of the larger houses in town, last week about a problem. She is a new woman with whom I’d never previously spoken and whose name I’d forgotten. An intelligent, competent operator, not a machine, answered the telephone, and within seconds put me through to the right person. She, in turn, immediately understood my fuzzily described dilemma, explained to me how it could be resolved, and within three hours, not days, or weeks, or months, was back to me with the problem solved.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am laughing, though it isn’t funny really! I see myself running around the house unplugging and plugging back phones–or cable boxes–when I know that the problem that’s causing either not to work isn’t mine or my equipment’s.

    Once we waited three months for a phone line and the company kept asking my husband, no electrician, to do electrician’s work to get a line up and running! When the technician finally came he was in and out of the window, running to the basement–all way above any lay person’s ability without training. A sad state of affairs.

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