When I was a kid, my father used to give pure hell to any customer service person employed by a company that messed up. Pity the person at the other end of customer service line at Sears: if my dad got a defective dishwasher, someone was going to pay dearly. Being a white man in the 1960s and 70s, he could get away with screaming on the phone, demanding to speak to the person’s supervisor, and then telling said supervisor that this person was an imbecile. Supervisors usually tried to placate him — a new dishwasher, a more expensive model for no extra cost, for instance, and generally, he was happy to be placated once he got what he wanted.
My dad is dead, and the world has changed. Angry white men don’t frighten us in general as much as they once did, and big corporations don’t have as much interest in or reason to give away lots of stuff to calm someone yelling on the phone. Besides, just calling is a world of difference, usually involving punching in number after number (your account number, zipcode, password and name of favorite movie star) for 10 minutes before being put on hold and forced to listen to elevator-music-versions of Abba songs.
Today, I faced a situation that would have made my dad yell into the phone, “Take me to your leader, you moron!” My daughter’s college’s loan company — the one that allows us to pay our portion each semester in monthly payments — billed us twice for a big hunk of money for the second month in a row. Last month, after many phone calls, I thought it was our bank’s fault, but no, it was the loan servicing center’s fault due to what is surely a big batch of incompetence. I have a history of sending this company completed automatic payment forms that then are swallowed by a vortex of what people there call “the back office.” Seems that one form I sent floated up to the surface months later and was processed all of a sudden.
When I was in 20s, I’m ashamed to say that I tended to yell at people on the phone in such situations, having been taught well by the master of rage. But it never felt right, especially if the person on the other end acted nervous and scared. After a while, I realized that even if I needed to spend 40 minutes on a phone call I didn’t want to make, fixing a situation that wasn’t my fault, it didn’t ever warrant me being an asshole.
Reminding myself that the people on the other end of the phone are real, dealing with a lot of rage and confusion on the other line all day, and having to work a job that would drive me up one wall and down another, today I joked with George, the wonderful rep at the loan company, about the vortex as he sweetly asked if there was anything, ANYTHING, they could do to make up this mistake. I thought of asking him to come over and clean my basement, but the company is in Southern California, and it would make for a long drive for him.
At the end of the call, we were falling over each other with niceness. “No, thank YOU!” I said. “No, no, no, thank YOU!” he called back. When I hung up, I was glad, that on this count, I’m not so much my father’s daughter anymore.