Dear service industry:

Occasionally, we don’t see eye to eye. That’s life, and reasonable people can disagree about things. But occasionally I will ask you for something, whether it’s an actual physical object or a bit of information, and it will take some time to arrive. And, occasionally, the delivery of that item will be, to whatever degree, time-critical. I am, in this case, entrusting you with the job of producing this thing for me, in an agreed-upon time frame, for which I will give you an agreed-upon amount of money.

Most of the time that exchange takes place, we both go our separate ways, and if the whole exchange was civilized I’ll tell my friends that such and such person or company was a pleasure to do business with. Hopefully, this will generate more business for you, and we all win.

But sometimes it doesn’t go like that. I’m not a wholly unreasonable man, at least not at first. Sometimes trucks drive off the road, sometimes people don’t answer their e-mail. Life is, occasionally, like that.

But dear service industry, when I call you to find out where my widget or my bit of information is, lately your reflexive response to these inquiries has been so, so wrong.

You see, I don’t care if you “understand how important” my problem is. I don’t care if you “appreciate” it. Not the tiniest little bit; I am trying to get something done, and your sympathy and understanding means nothing to me. I need X, to do Y; there’s no element to these transactions so complicated that it couldn’t be fully appreciated and completely understood by, say, a golden retriever. Delegating my appreciation or understanding of the issue is not time- or cost-effective; I do not want to know how you feel about it, because on a fundamental level I don’t care how you feel about it. I care about getting my goddamned problem solved.

It’s OK to tell me what I want to hear at this point. But let me tell you what that is.

  1. What’s happened that’s prevented you from fulfilling our initial agreement. As long as it’s not totally prepostrous, you can tell me just about anything here. I’m ready to believe you – it’s not all that important at this point anyway, so long as it’s not something like “we forgot”.
  2. What you’re doing about it. If you can’t do anything but wait, come right out and say so. If you have options, hit me; I’m listening. Got a plan B lined up? I want to know.
  3. Don’t tell me you understand, or appreciated it, or feel for me. Even if I believed you, it still wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference. I don’t even need an apology at this point, if we’ve worked out a plan B.

If you want to go straight to the head of the class, don’t wait until I call you to tell me this stuff. Show me that you’re on top of it, and phone me first. “Sir, we’ve had a problem with the delivery of X, we can do Y or suggest alternative arrangement Z”. That would be pure, customer-service gold.

But, man, “I Understand And Appreciate” seems to be the go-to phrase these days for people who cannot do anything useful to help you, but would rather that not bother you. It’s completely content-free, empty air, the adult version of cooing at a baby when they’re upset. Nowadays, my brain just makes that substitution automatically. You might think you’re saying “I understand how important this issue is, I appreciate it, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can”, but all I hear is “No, you’re not getting your information today! Coochie coo… Maybe we’ll sendy-wendy all that to you laaaaaater! Who’s a good client? Who’s a good client? That’s right, you are!”

And then the inside of my brain starts to go all sideways, and my reasonable-person apparatus starts grinding metal and smelling of smoke.


  1. Posted February 17, 2006 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I got that this week, at fucking BIRKS of all places.

    They’ve had my watch in the shop for 6 weeks now, and only this week do I learn that the part on order is no longer available.

    What the hell is this world coming to?

  2. Oli
    Posted February 20, 2006 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    D’ya think it would be nice to see the government implement some sort of quality of service law? Something like having all merchants required to refund a certain minor percentage of the cost back to the client for the amount of time that they use in excess of their agreement. Granted, I can see some problems with this, but hitting corporations in the pocketbook would certainly be a good way of getting their attention.