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Zen and the Art of Shopping

Aug
23
2007

When I lived in the U.S., one of my very favorite, and I mean super-duper favorite, things to do was call 800 number “customer service” lines. I love navigating the computer voice options and punching numbers, and I love the “service” you get when you get through.
Sure, a lot of ordering and address changing and asking questions can be done online, but company websites all have their own annoying and sometimes unworkable quirks, and if you’ve got a problem or a special circumstance you do need to try to speak to a person.
Living in Europe has made 800 number fun extra special. First, the time difference means you can call even the places that are only open in the daytime right before bed, and everyone knows chatting with a customer service rep at bedtime is way more soothing than a warm bath. And then, best of all, you’re usually paying for the call yourself – toll free rarely applies to Europe too.
So why am I spending time shooting up my blood pressure on my own dime? Well, according to my own informal survey, only 0.7 percent of customer transactions with businesses result in complete customer satisfaction. In the other 99.3 percent, something breaks, there’s a delay, the subscription ends before it should, a service charge gets added on for no reason – the company messes up, and it’s never in your favor.
I have about 20, or maybe 200, companies on my current “something to fix” list – banks, airline frequent flyer clubs, magazines, phone companies, etc., etc. Each one requires a waste of my time to try to fix something that should have been done right the first time, and each one needs a phone call, an email, a letter, or usually some combination. You know, you send the email to find out you need to make a phone call, and make the phone call to find out you need to send a letter, and send the letter to find out you have to go kneel in front of the company headquarters and beg for your frequent flyer miles to be credited.
I don’t think I’m particularly fussy, not really – I’m not talking about disputing a paint job of “sunkissed peach” color because I wanted “sunrise peach.” It’s just that so many things just don’t really work. Think about it – when you buy something and it really does what it should well, or you find a company that does a good job in every sense – aren’t you surprised? I wonder, though, is that a change from some mythical period of competence, or have we always just sort of muddled through with misdirected mail and wheels that come off and charges that appear from nowhere?
Now of course we can zing out orders anytime we like on the Internet. And when the fake leather supersize doggie bed doesn’t arrive, the Internet makes it easier than before to look up the 800 number, and then get the email of the complaint department when the 800 number fails us. And then, if you think it’s worth it or you’re really peeved, look up the Better Business Bureau and the relevant consumer agencies and shoot off emails to all of them.
Zen-ny, feng shui, mind clearing, decluttering types will tell you that too much stuff weighs you down. But you can only pare down so much. The more modern, or probably post-modern, approach is to realize that the stuff is simply irrelevant; what counts is the Zen-like flow around the stuff – the ordering, the complaining, the ordering, the complaining. That might be the path to enlightenment, or at least the way keep your blood pressure down.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:11 PM | Permalink

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