Sunday, July 19, 2015


Can't people READ?


I BELIEVE I KNOW how to communicate, at least in writing.

Over my lifetime I have worked successfully as a newspaper reporter and editor, a PR flack (practitioner), and a technical writer. I'll admit I am not the world's best "speler"CQ, but I use spell check and both on-line and unabridged hard copy dictionaries to mitigate my deficiency.

Given that, I am somewhat miffed, put out, and otherwise perturbed (I'm being polite) when I TRY to communicate with groups that claim to be "Customer Service."

I recently had occasion to contact my favorite airline's Customer Care people. For domestic service, this airline is very good; not the least expensive, but service is usually A-1.

My Spouse is returning from visiting across the pond. She will be arriving at JFK' Terminal 4. Clearing passport control, collecting baggage, and clearing Customs goes fairly smoothly, even with masses of passengers seemingly arriving at the same time. I did the "Welcome Home" exercise a few months ago, so I write from experience.

Once The Spouse clears Customs she has to haul her bag to a domestic flight baggage re-check. The walk from the Customs' exit gate to the baggage re-check is short and, if the bags are on wheels - as most are - not difficult.


I now know, thanks to the airline's Web site, that there is (was?) a bus/van shuttle between JFK Terminal 4 to the airline's terminal for most domestic flights. I didn't know this when I came back; the guy who checked my bag - certainly nice enough - directed me to the intra-airport train that stopped at all terminals. I caught the train - 'course it was going clockwise and I needed to go counter-clockwise, but it's a closed loop - and I arrived at my destination terminal in good time.

HOWEVER, now knowing that the airline had a terminal-to-terminal van/bus shuttle - unlike the train, no intermediate stops - I sent the airline's Customer Care people a short message via the airline Web site:

    Wife arriving from ROME/FCO with connecting flight to FLL.

    Believe FCO to JFK arrives at T-4; JFK-to FLL departs from T-2. What is BEST WAY for her to get from luggage recheck at/near T-4 to T-2? If (airline) shuttle, where are stops? TIA

Rather than provide an answer to what I thought was a simple question in 8th grade words, Customer Care ignores the question and responds

    Based on the information received, we are unable to locate your wife's reservation. Your assistance would be appreciated in providing additional information which would allow us to process your request.

    Please provide us with the 13 digit ticket number that begins with 006 or 012, dates of travel, flight number, city pairs, or the phone number listed on the reservation.

OK, maybe I'm not the sharpest crayon in the box, but I fail to see how the flight-specific information was needed to answer what I still believe was a simple, straight-forward question: How to get from Point A to Point B.

Perhaps it is a time-of-day thing. The shuttle operates between, say, 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Still, Customer Care could could have responded with:

    A shuttle bus (van) operates between terminals between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.; all other times passengers may use the train that runs 24/7..

I responded to Customer Care's email with the requested information and asked them why it was necessary since the question was not flight dependent. Customer Care declined to respond.

I eventually documented my exchange with Customer Care and sent a paper letter to the airline's Customer Care(less) operation. Perhaps - perhaps - someone who can READ AND THINK will respond in time for me to advise my Spouse.

In another instance, I asked a company a two-part question:

  1. Where is the product made
  2. What is the warranty?

The reply, from the Advanced Technical Sales Manager told me where the product was manufactured, but failed to address the warranty issue.

A second email to the gentleman reminded him that my post was a two-part question and he owed me an answer for part 2. He replied "Lifetime warranty" - no apology. In the end I bought a competitor's product, also made overseas and also with a lifetime warranty. (Both companies have service centers in the U.S.)

Anyone who has visited this blog knows that I seem to have a running feud with customer support operations. I've railed against insurance companies (frequently, it seems), VoIP phone companies, and retailers.

There are a couple of bright notes : Julia J. of Wayfair, Inc. took care of a warranty issue the first time I contacted Wayfair. Bravo to Julia and to Wayfair for employing someone who can read and giving the people enough authority to do their job.

I know my penmanship's not what it used to be - I WAS proud of my handwriting - but I can't blame handwriting on my apparent inability to communicate with so many Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) across several business fields since my exchanges with them have been via a keyboard.

I work very hard to make myself understood. I avoid negatives (no, un-, not), rephrasing things in the positive. I sometimes list things "by the numbers" after alerting the reader that "This message has two questions."

On the other hand, I admit to providing only information I deem relevant to avoid making the CSR read more than absolutely necessary. My opinion of most CSRs' ability to read - Julia J. being an all too rare exception - is that second grade may be too high.

Perhaps most CSRs are told to follow the script and never deviate. If any box lacks a check, tell the person asking for help that all boxes must be checked if they expect service from Customer Service.

Why not use the telephone?

  1. I lack patience for 30-minute wait times
  2. I have a difficult time understanding non-U.S. English - and I lived overseas for awhile
  3. I am a curmudgeon.

Am I asking too much for Customer Care, Customer Support to actually DO THE JOB they are charged with doing?

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