Giving Good Call

In the past week, I’ve had some unexpected success with calling the customer service departments of a few large companies. In contrast to earlier times, like during my customer service caveman era when I spoke with an Apple technical assistant in Bangalore who kept putting me on hold to ask his cubicle-mate questions, these are much brighter days indeed! During this same shadowed era, a call to Washington Mutual to request ATM cards was greeted with a request on their part for us to visit our local WAMU branch office to order these cards ourselves — as they couldn’t place ATM card orders over the phone.
First, a call to AT&T to inquire about an extra month’s charge. It turned out that they were right and I was wrong. Who knew? I did not. But then the customer service representative said, “Let’s see how we can save you money each month” and she actually did: about $40.00 per month with another phone plan. [Why they couldn’t have just called me first about this deal, I don’t know.]
Second, a call to T-Mobile, my new bad mobile service provider (Sprint was the old bad one). Customer service reps at T-Mobile are nearly always cheerful (even giddy) and cut to the quick. They tracked down an order, made sure the service was good by asking if it was good, and promptly won my well-worn threads of mobile loyalty.
Third, a call to Chase (a.k.a. JP Morgan Chase) to start a new bank account. For some reason, the genius programmers there did not test their Java applets on Safari or Firefox (on Macintosh), so my online application got lost in the digital shuffle. But in calling them, they quickly picked up, put me through to a kindly man named Michael who took down my most personal Federal information and told me that the account would be ready to set up and sign in a few days time.
Are these three examples of good reverse patronage a sign of our times in some way? Do they represent a fearful workforce forced to be smiling at all times at work lest they frown at home forever alone? Do these examples spell the return of jobs to the United States where “friendly Americans” can again cater to our friendly American needs?
More interestingly, perhaps, I wonder if other countries are as equally fond of finding good customer service and, more darkly, I wonder if Americans’ fondness for good customer service is connected with our slave-holding past.

2 thoughts on “Giving Good Call”

  1. Just watch it there buddy – I guess you never saw those news programs (60 Minutes?) where they went to these Indian call centers – in India, of course – and trained these folks to speak with all sorts of regional accents, down to even giving them assumed identities like ‘Hilda Gonzales’ and ‘John Harper’.
    I think that your ‘presceince’ for the return of American call-centers may be a bit premature. Bangalore is still cheaper than Iowa and wherever they used to get those people from.
    And many of those Bangalore customer service-types make a daily routine of checking the weather for wherever they’re supposed to be in the world…
    Only when the spending power of the dollar flattens out completely, will the CFOs even consider bringing those jobs back home. Under Bush, at least.

  2. speaking of slavery, did anyone else see or hear the nov. 4 interview of jamie raskin, american university law professor, on ‘democracy now’? (i saw it last night because our public access tv channel broadcasts amy goodman on two week delay.) he spoke about the electoral college, and specifically about how it’s a remnant of america’s slaveholding history, which i didn’t know. i found it very interesting. i quote briefly:
    AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the telephone — rather, in the studio in Washington by Jamie Raskin of American University, law professor. Jamie, right now, we’re looking at Republican consolidation of power over not only the presidency, Supreme Court, Senate, House, federal judiciary the majority of governorships and state legislatures. Can you talk about the significance of this, and the structural underpinnings?
    JAMIE RASKIN: Well, I think that Juan put his finger on what’s going on here, which is that our political institutions were structured by a determination to protect slavery in the South. And so, all of our political institutions have a pro-Southern tilt to them. The Electoral College can only be understood as being intertwined with the history of slavery and white supremacy in the country. The Southern states were looking for a way to combine the disproportionate power they got through the US Senate with the House of Representatives where they got disproportionate power through the three-fifths clause, counting the slaves, 60% of the slaves, to inflate the power of the slave masters in their congressional delegations. So the Electoral College worked like a dream for the southern states. Four out of the five first presidents were slave masters. The electoral college, all the way up through the 20th century and today, has operated to give disproportionate power to the South and specifically the most conservative backward forces in the South. We just saw that play out again yesterday. In the 20th century, there were a number of conservative Dixiecrats who left the Democratic Party in presidential elections like George Wallace, like Harry Byrd, like Strom Thurmond and ran for president as independents to send a message to the Democratic Party about how the civil rights movement should not be joined and should not be supported. The Electoral College has always been a lever against civil rights progress. Today is now acts to support the most conservative forces in the country that want to increase corporate power, that don’t want to deal with issues like health care for the people, that don’t want to deal with environmental protection and so on. And we’re getting a kind of one party lockup of the political system through the Republican party control of the House, the Senate, the White House, the Supreme Court, the federal judiciary, and the different levers of power going to reinforce one another as we saw in 2000 when five-justice majority all appointed by Republicans on the Supreme Court moved to hand Bush a victory in the Electoral College, despite the fact that he was town 500,000 votes. They have been able to use the last four years with their control over the federal budget, with their control over the federal government, with their support in the corporate media, to consolidate their political power. So, if you believe the central insight of our founders about checks and balances, we’re in a dangerous situation to have one party control over all of our major political institutions.
    for the entire interview, see:
    http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/11/04/1620244

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