I have an in-progress ranking of situations that make me want to fast-forward my slow march into oblivion. Before yesterday, speaking to customer service fell somewhere between getting pantsed in public and having to walk toward a passing acquaintance from opposite ends of a deserted hallway, unable to decipher when to acknowledge the other person.
(I mean, do you wave once you see them and walk in silence toward them? Do you feign interest in the atmospheric oxygen until you’re within conversing distance? Screw personal finance, that was all I really wanted to learn in high school.)
What I’m trying to say is that customer service interaction entails unspeakable suffering. That’s why yesterday, before I had to call two different companies about modifying flight details, I first contemplated options like cancelling the entire trip.
What triggers I associate with customer service:
- Once, a wait time of two hours.
- The nightmarish loop of Don’t Stop Believin’, so shrill through my phone speakers that I have to lower the volume and miss when someone actually picks up.
- The time I got repeatedly transferred between the three university departments.
- The time I ordered laptop stickers and had to call over five times due to misprints.
- United Airlines
It’s frustrating because when you can’t see the customer service reps, it’s easy to picture them as uncaring automatons, dismissive of your concerns and unnecessarily difficult to deal with. After handling customer complaints all day, they no longer act like human beings. (And sometimes, they probably aren’t. Amazon’s been under fire recently for a dystopian Twitter thread of “fulfillment center ambassador” employee accounts providing glowing testimonials under the thumb of their soulless corporation… I say, myself a business major.)
Anyway, my friend and I had been planning a trip to LA in November to watch a Starkid show (the team that created A Very Potter Musical, if you remember the year 2009.) She was buying the tickets, and I was using Travelocity, a travel agency, through which I’d booked two round-trip flights. I’d just finished calling a rep to edit flight details—I’d missed the box to input my frequent flyer number—which wasn’t too bad, just a hold of around 20 minutes. Then my friend texted.
Friend: omg Nicole. [The show tickets] sold out.
We scrambled to find another weekend showing and became intelligent enough to get the tickets first this time. I booked the new flights, but when I tried to cancel the old ones, I found we were subject to a cancellation fee more expensive than the flight cost. (Usually, airlines and trip aggregators have a 24-hour free cancellation policy, but Spirit Airlines does not.) Travelocity said I’d have to call Spirit.
Fueled only by the searing injustice, I immediately dialed Spirit’s number. Usually, before communicating with anyone, I like to mentally rehearse what I’m going to say and make sure I have a vague outline lest I utterly embarrass myself. But I was beyond rationality. I massaged my face, warming up my jaw muscles. I stood up. I waited on hold, which in hindsight would’ve been a good time to practice. And I prepared to beg.
Finally, someone answered.
Spirit rep: Hello?
Me: Hi, how are you?
Spirit rep: Good, thanks for asking, how—
Me: I’m good thanks I wanted to call because I booked a flight a couple hours ago and I didn’t know there wasn’t a 24-hour cancellation policy *INHALE* because I booked through Travelocity and now the cancellation fee is even more than the actual flight and I just wanted to *INHALE* ask whether you could… please cancel the flight?
Me: *breathes heavily*
Spirit rep: Okay. Can I check the flight number?
Spirit rep: Okay, I will refund this flight.
Me: I just didn’t know so this is just—uh. Really? I mean, uh. Thank you so much.
We ended the call, and I just sat at my desk and blinked. I’d been taken aback by the ease of his agreement. He’d already acceded and I almost would’ve kept going. I felt like I’d been hyping myself up for a throwdown, already throwing the first punch only to find my opponent extending his hand.
I’d been so intimidated by customer service before because I kept forgetting they were real people. (In terms of the ability to be rational, I mean, not making me act less socially uncomfortable.) I figure if you ask for what you want and you’re reasonably patient and polite about it, you usually have nothing to worry about. Unless, I suppose, you’re speaking with the Amazon fulfillment center, in which case you and all parties have already been replaced by droids.
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