‘I’ ON CULTURE
People constantly moan about the lack of service by many businesses these days. A major reason for this, however, seems to be the desire to provide more service. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But far too many places seem to want to give so much more that things fall apart. There probably is some sort of scientific law about this (maybe the Third Law of Thermodynamics?), but the facts are easily observable.
A few years ago, you could go into a store and get a cup of coffee and a bagel, and the whole thing would take less than a minute. Chances are, the owner knew about how many customers would be showing up and would even prepare things in advance. Now, we have a dozen different kinds of bagels with many fillings. There are complex recipes for coffee drinks with names like “low fat vanilla cappuccino with a double espresso shot,” and those take time to prepare, since each is unique.
In the olden days, you could walk into a shop and there would be a couple of folks taking orders, someone slicing rolls and bagels and putting on butter or cream cheese, another person pouring coffee so you could get out quick. Now, there can be eight people behind the counter, and only one of them is actually talking to customers while the rest are constantly cleaning fancy equipment and monitoring toasters and microwaves and creating masterpieces that will be consumed within minutes.
When I was a teenager, I worked at movie theater candy stands in The Bronx (the Fordham and Paradise theaters, for former residents). The most complicated thing I had to do, aside from making change, was hitting the button on the butter machine to increase the cost from a dime to a quarter. There were machines for soda. I could take care of the average customer in less than a minute.
Today, the kids at the stand are cooking onion rings and sliders. Nothing is quick, and we simply wait. How long until we’re told we have to wait around 15 minutes to get the Beef Wellington? There’s more variety and a lot longer wait — and perhaps that’s the real reason for the 20 to 30 minutes of trailers before the films.
My real gripe comes with dealing with companies over the phone. After all, this is the computer age, but slow humans are still needed. Companies know that humans are slower, so they have quick machines and messages to make us feel better. Don’t we all love the classic line: “Your message is important to us. Please hold on.” My heart quickens when I hear that. How nice to tell me that.
Of course, if my message were really important, someone might be ready to answer the call. I recently watched my daughter wait 36 minutes to get through to her dental health insurance carrier to arrange permission to go to a new dentist. Once she got through to a live human, it was simple. But that took a while, not to mention a lot of muttering.
One time, I had an issue with a cruise line. It was not a vital one, but it had to be fixed before we got on the ship. I called promptly at 9 a.m. and was told by a machine that my business was very important. I then waited 48 minutes before they disconnected me. After several minutes of intense muttering, I got back on and turned on my speaker phone so I could work while waiting. I got the same message about the importance of my call… every three minutes. Between that, there were constant ads describing the great fun I would have when I was on their ships.
I kept the phone next to me as I worked on the computer, made and ate my lunch, went out on my patio to read for a while, all the while hearing how much I was valued. After an hour, I was disgusted and wanted to simply hang up, but the scientist in me wanted to find out how long it would take. After five hours and 14 minutes, a very nice person took seven minutes to fix my problem.
And, finally, let’s not forget how many businesses now provide no connection at all for direct human conversation so things cannot be straightened out — all in the name of better service!