Customer Service in America 2.0
I am beginning to understand, a little more each day, the quaint term “grumpy old man.” But I honestly believe I’m not like my parents, or grandparents, in naively believing that “the good old days” were simply better, and that all this “newfangled” stuff has ruined what was a perfect world.
I am online constantly; I spend more time there and interact with more people in a cyber sense than I do in a tangible physical sense. When I do have to confront the real world outside of cyberspace, I almost always end up disappointed and frustrated. Some of us have coined the term America 2.0 for a good reason.
Just in the past few months, I have had to deal with situations that shouldn’t happen in a sane rational country. And I have experienced the corrupt marketplace I called out in great detail in my book Survival of the Richest. There is no free enterprise in this country now, if there ever really was. It is crony capitalism, and it’s horrific.
When a home appliance breaks, in my area I have basically a few companies to choose from. Home Depot. Lowe’s. Best Buy. I have had nightmare experiences with all of them. Because I, like the vast majority of Americans, cannot install my own new appliance, or cart away the old one, I have to rely on their team of outsourced installers. And they all outsource their installations. I can’t remember the last time I had a successful, problem-free installation from any company.
Last year, Lowe’s outsourced delivery team installed a new washing machine that had no power. Think about that; somehow, a new product rolled off the assembly line in whatever foreign factory it was built in, and the quality control was such that no one caught the essential fact that the machine wouldn’t turn on. After a relatively minor bit of aggravation, we got a working washing machine installed. I think they knocked $200 off my credit card bill.
In May of this year, we went back to Lowe’s because our dishwasher broke. To say this has been a nightmare is a severe understatement. The installers managed to damage my kitchen counter top, forgot to put a metal flap on the bottom, and left a huge mess behind them. They claimed we had to have some of the wooden floor shaved in order for the unit to fit properly (they left it jutting out into the kitchen). After several more phone calls, someone from the installation team came out and shaved enough wood for the unit to slide in, albeit not very well.
After this second installation, we noticed that the door of the dishwasher wasn’t opening properly- it would stick and you had to force it down. So we had to have them come again, after the warranty team checked it out (we also paid for the extended warranty), and determined that the door issue was because the bottom flap, when it was finally installed, was sitting too high, and the door was catching when you opened it. So they removed the bottom flap to make the door work.
At this time, we had also discovered some water under the kitchen sink, and the appliance guy ran the dishwasher and saw that the slow leak was coming from there. He guessed that the initial crack team of installers that had damaged my counter top had leaned on the pipe or something to cause this.
Since the first point of contact is supposed to be the store where you purchased the product, I tried phoning the Fairfax, Virginia store numerous times, but a manager was never available. When I called Lowe’s customer service, they tried phoning the store and couldn’t get a manager, either. Incredibly, I have visited the store in person twice, and neither time was a manager available to talk with me. This is, of course, incomprehensible to me, but it seems to be standard operating procedure for this company.
Then, last Friday, the dishwasher stopped working completely. Now this might have been due to the fact we had a new refrigerator installed the day before. I say this because there was also a crack team of installers sent by Best Buy, where we purchased it from, and the dishwasher was at least working prior to that. However, I haven’t told Lowe’s about this, as I’m certain they would instantly attribute it to Best Buy’s outsourced installers’ incompetence, instead of their own outsourced installers’ incompetence.
I have called Lowe’s laughable customer service more times than I can remember. Even for the severely lowered standards in America 2.0, their “customer service” is practically nonexistent. No one you talk to is understanding or empathetic, or cognizant of how poorly their company is functioning at all levels. I know from past experience that Home Depot is just as bad. And Best Buy once took three separate delivery dates to actually deliver my new television.
Yesterday, I went to start my 2017 Subaru Forester, and it just cranked without the engine kicking in. So I attempted to have it towed by Subaru’s road side assistance program this morning. It was a marathon battle, but I finally was able to break through their automated menu from hell to talk with a real person. It is also very difficult to ever get the Farrish Subaru service team to answer their phone. At least whatever is wrong should be covered by the warranty.
But why is a highly rated car like this experiencing such problems with low mileage, only a few years after it was built? I would expect this kind of thing with American cars, but Japanese technology is supposed to be better. I guess I could ask the same question about our refrigerator; I think it lasted about ten years. Maybe I’m wrong to expect something better than that. Maybe I should learn to lower my expectations, and bring them in line with the realities of America 2.0.
Corporate America has become as unresponsive and as bureaucratic as any government agency. The annoying automated menus alone- which every business uses- are enough to frustrate anyone. Or at least anyone who lived in America 1.0, when human receptionists used to answer the phones. No politician- left or right- mentions how impersonal and uncaring all businesses are now. And it is an issue all can relate to, because these companies are screwing everyone, with their pathetic customer service and inferior products.
Of course I factor in the extremely low-paid nature of those who work in customer service at all companies. I try to be understanding in light of that. But they are usually the only point of contact for consumers. They are unfortunately the face, or more aptly voice, of their respective companies. The public doesn’t have the ear of the clueless CEO who is ultimately responsible for the systemic dysfunction, and for which he or she is paid millions in undeserved compensation.
Last week, I was in Panera- an incredibly overpriced place that has a strange appeal to every female in my life- and witnessed a bizarre scene. An irate customer was complaining, in a raised voice, that he had been waiting over half an hour for his soup and piece of bread. I think he had a legitimate complaint. But the manager was unresponsive, causing him to understandably become even more upset. Instead of giving the guy a free cookie or pastry to pacify him, or even just apologizing, this ridiculous manager called the police. And no one in the crowded restaurant batted an eye.
All of this, while part of my own personal experiences, is entirely normal for America 2.0. All oldsters like me can do is grumble quietly and fondly recall America 1.0, which was corrupt to the core, but at least a competent country.