Friday, May 12, 2006

Corporations without a face: a little rant

Here's a comment I posted to Kos. PerfectStormer posted a diary asking people to be nice to the call reps when complaining about having their phone records illegally turned over to the NSA. I agree one should be nice to call reps. Indeed, one should be nice under almost all circumstances. I am from Minnesota, after all. But this plea for sympathy provoked something of a rant from me:

I understand that when you finally get through on a customer service call, the phone rep you end up talking to is so completely disempowered and alienated from the actual decision making process that yelling at them makes no more sense than yelling at part of a chair on which you have stubbed your toe. And I totally sympathize with people whose job it is to deal with dissatisfied customers who are often clueless and fundamentally responsible for the cause of their problem (e.g. not paying the bill).

But it is incredibly frustrating for those of us who do have genuine problems that we have tried to solve on our own when a corporation hides itself behind these mazes of voice menus and long hold times. When our own time is wasted because of a corporation's mistake, anger is a natural reaction. And the fact that the corporation never presents a real face to get angry at is only more infuriating. Imagine if  your friend Bob were to do something hurtful to you, and when you confront him he were to say, "Please don't yell at me. I'm just the social interface of Bob. I didn't make the decision, that was Bob's management. I'm just trying to make a living. Bob doesn't even pay me very well, and will fire me if I don't play by his rules."

This is the situation of the individual in relationship to the enormous institutions which affect us: corporations and goverment agencies. If a huge institution does something that hurts us (cancels our plane ticket, loses our package, overcharges our phone bill, or in the case of Kaiser, prevents you from getting a kidney), our humanity and feelings mean nothing. Or rather, they are coolly calculated on some spreadsheet somewhere: how much can we annoy our customers before they leave in great enough numbers that it offsets the cost savings from our crappy service? The decision makers within an institution do not have to see our suffering directly, or experience it on a human level.

But when the individual attempts to complain, to vent anger, to strike back, suddenly the humanity of the corporate or government representative is invoked! Oh, don't hurt the poor call center person! See how she suffers in the face of your vicious onslaught! Take pity! Have empathy! The big institution uses the exploited worker as a human shield to protect itself from the anger that it itself creates, but refuses to face. And that pisses me off.

Yes, I believe that most people who call tech support or customer service are frustrating idoits. I've had friends who've worked in tech support and I've heard the stories. But I admit my sympathies are not with those of you behind those phones. I pay my bills. I don't try to bilk corporations. I try to solve things on my own. (Indeed I go to great lengths to avoid making customer service calls, as in no other situation do I feel so powerless and humiliated.) But the call center folks don't know this. To them, I'm just another potential freak.

So to you call center folks: You are not being paid nearly enough. You are being used. And you are being used to keep my anger from those who have earned it.


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