My War With China

I suspect that one of these days when moderate Republicans are no longer allowed in this country that I will be stopped at the border coming into China. Not because I am a political undesirable- okay, maybe- but because I have a problem with one their manufacturers that exports to America. You didn’t hear about it? That’s because I’m going to fill you in on it right here.

You want the long story or the short version?

Huh?- I figured as much but I’ll tell you the long one anyway:

The other day the phones in my condo were no longer cooperating. I could dial out without a problem but the ringer on receiving a call was a brief belch along with static. I called your favorite three letter phone company and they dispatched a repair person the next day as promised. Okay, it wasn’t as promised but why get my blood boiling so early in the story. There will be plenty of time soon enough.

A tall, very sweaty, overweight much experienced linebacker (as they call them, I think) spent quite a lot of time testing signal strength and static in the phone room (don’t get me going about what it took to get the phone room open) as well as the various rooms in my fourth floor apartment. He came to a conclusion which had be starting to boil. He said that the linebacker fee I pay each month on my bill covers only the wiring at the phone room to the outside world as well as up to my apartment but not in the walls in the various rooms.

The main conduit is in the kitchen. There the signal on the phone is fantastic. But once you hook it to the line going throughout the other rooms, the static shows up. He said that he would not devote two hours to trying to sniff out where the breaks are. He gave me two choices which was really only one. He said I could keep the wiring the way it is and have the static and difficulty in answering calls or I can let him disconnect the line from the rest of the residence and have only one phone in the kitchen. I would then need to go out and purchase a kit of three or four wireless phones. This way I could plug them into wall outlet chargers and have phone availability in as many rooms as I wanted. It also meant that I would be giving up the answering machine in the bedroom and it would be instead built into the base unit in the kitchen.

So far, no China, right? Here is where they get involved. You can’t fight city hall nor the three letter phone company, I guess. I went to a popular consumer electronics store and bought a two handset wireless phone set that I thought looked pretty much identical to the single handset wireless phone I purchased several months. In fact, to the naked eye- no one can tell that there is any difference.

I took the two handset unit home, set them up and figured it would be a piece of cake to register the older phone as the third unit. However, no dice. I read the instructions several times looking for hidden clues that would help me break the mystery on why it refused to recognize the third phone.

On a hunch, I opened up the battery holder on each phone and the mystery was quickly solved. The two units that communicated with each other in a cooperative fashion were model 629’s and my slightly older, identical unit was model 619. Ah, those clever Chinese.

I called the customer service hotline and was told by a robotic female voice in a very bossy American tone that I could press options 1 through 9 or hang up. If I thought that I was smarter than them and pressed 0, it would not be of help. Instead, it would go back to the start and give me the menu options over again. I figured then if I pressed 0 several times in a row, maybe that would wake up the robotic night watchman on the other side of the world, and switch me over to a human being. At this point, who cared if they spoke English or not. However, once I pressed 0 five times quickly, the female robot came back on and said simply, “good bye and thank you for calling” and the dial tone came back.

Not to be outsmarted by a machine, I decided to call back again and this time choose the option to place an order, figuring that I would indeed be connected to a live person. After I carefully chose the option in which I promised to buy expensive accessories, I was told to wait and a sales person would soon come on the line. After ten minutes of listening to loud, innocuous music, I hung up.

My next tactic was to go to their website and click on the Contact Us link. I sent an email to them warning them that I would spread the word about the lack of customer service support and picket the store from where I bought the phones.

They wrote back in broken English thanking me for trying their product and wishing me harmonious enjoyment when making phone calls. I returned the favor by sending another email informing them that I was planning to dig a hole so deep in the back yard of our condo building and help the Mexicans who do our landscaping find a new escape route to China. Then when the Asians look at all the stuff they buy that has labels that read “Hecho in Mejico”, and try calling the customer support line, I’ll be the one designing their automated answering system.

Uh, after I cooled off, I went back to that popular consumer electronics store with a very nice return policy and exchanged the 2 handset unit plus the difference in price for a 4 handset kit sold with the three letter phone company icon on the box.

Oop’s I forgot. Two days later, I got another email from the first phone manufacturer and said that my dilemma (their words) could probably be solved by talking to a live person via a customer support
line. The number they gave me was special and not posted in their instructions manual nor on their website. But, you know what they say- “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

Is The Customer Always Right?

Remember the old slogan, “The Customer is Always Right”? It seems as if in today’s world, that axiom has gone by the wayside. Nowadays, consumers are encouraged to call toll-free numbers to get customer service assistance. More often this is what they hear:

“Welcome to the XYZ Company customer service hotline. Si habla espanol, pulse’ ocho” or something like that. The caller waits a few seconds until it is safe to speak in English, as if it is a crime in the United States to do so.

The thing about these automated dialing systems once you get past the greeting is that regardless of language they are programmed to prevent you from talking to a live person who can help facilitate solving your problem. So, what good is customer service if you can’t reach them?

As it happens, complainers like me have learned the tricks of the trade on how to navigate through the labyrinth of circular digital detours that end up back to the ubiquitous “or press 9 to start over the menu choices”. The best thing to do is rapidly press the number 0 several times. This will cause the switching system on the other end to figure out that one very ticked off person is holding on the other end expecting to talk to a live person.

When this happens, you hear “okay, you will be routed to the next available customer service person shortly. Please have patience as all of our customer service persons (the two that are not on coffee break) are helping others.” Then there is a slight pause, and you next hear “your call is important to us. Your estimated waiting time is 5 minutes. There are 2 people ahead of you in the queue.” Of course, this does not really mean that you will be connected in 5 or less minutes. You just know that the person ahead of you is going to take fifteen minutes to get his or her issue resolved.

Then there is the other tact that these automated systems pull. A mechanical voice prompts you to
say or enter your 10 digit customer account code. Sometimes this is how the action goes:

“Please say or enter your account number and press the number sign when done”. Or, “press the pound key when done.” Half the people over the age of 60 are looking for a button on their phone that reads “lb”. They have no idea what a pound key is. Sometimes the voice will offer, “press the star button to go back to the menu.” That’s nice, but it ain’t a star- it’s an asterisk, dummy.

On some systems they don’t give you an option to press a validation button to confirm the entry of the account number. When that happens, after a voice actuated entry of said account, the mechanical response may go like this:

“Sorry, we do not recognize ‘one, eight, seven, oops- I mean five, four, no make that five, what the heck’ as a valid account in our system. Please try again.”

After the correct account is entered, the system will acknowledge that you are worthy of speaking with a live human being even if they are seven time zones away from yours. As soon as the customer service rep comes on the line, he or she will say, “Hi, this is Maleek, can I have your name?”

You reply with, “I can understand why. I wouldn’t want yours, either.” The support person doesn’t get the joke so you change the tone of your voice and give him your name as if Perry Mason is asking you to do so on a witness stand.

The next thing you hear is, ”may I have your account number?”
So, you reply with, “but I just typed it into the system so I can get to talk to you? Why do I need to give it again?”

He or she replies with, “we need it to verify who you are.”

“But I know who I am.” So, in order to not lose the call you give him your account number, your social security number, drivers license number and grade transcriptions from college.

Ten minutes into the call you finally get to explain why you bothered to telephone in the first place.
Whether they end up making you happy or not, they always ask you to please fill out a survey if asked
by their company and mention how pleased you were with the help you received over the phone.

This is where you can get even and rid of several days of frustration. You reply, “sure, can I have your name? I’ll also need to verify your home address and mother’s maiden name.”

Thank you, good night and drive safely.