Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ponder Post 9: Why Does Nothing Work?

I have, today, spent approximately two hours on the phone to three different organisations. About 90 minutes of this time was, of course, spent listening to music and occasionally messages along the lines of, 'Thank you for your patience, your call is moving forward in the queue and will be answered shortly.' I am not naming these organisations because, in one case in particular, I am thinking of turning my dealings with them into a 500,000 word essay entitled Hating People is Right which will constitute my suicide note. Interestingly, nothing was resolved by any of these calls. Indeed, in each case, by calling these people I have created more problems for myself. Each person I spoke to was, as usual, simply following the rules generated by a computer programme. As individuals, they were powerless. They were also callous. My call was not something for which they felt personally responsible; it was, rather, something which had to be handed on to someone else. And, of course, having been handed on, it was impossible to get back to the original person to tell them I had been handed on to the wrong person. One of these companies was a broadband supplier. My problems with them have lasted four weeks. I once set up a broadband connection in New York. It took one phone call. When the kit arrived, remembering my experiences back home, I set aside a morning to get it working. It took 90 seconds. So, okay, somebody explain to me: why does nothing work?


  1. Nothing? Well, your phone managed to work, as did the answering message gizmos. Trouble is, we have created some mega corporate bureaucracies whose main customers are their investors. It is deeply frustrating. However, these things happen in the US too-it is far from exempt.

  2. the problem you have is one most of us have: you assume things should work. if you start to live the rest of your life believing things shouldn't work, then your world will be better.

  3. Most things don't work today because much of what is produced is for a global market. For that reason, most products are of poor quality, bland and disposal. And that includes the employees of most companies. This makes sound economic sense. The consumer (or flesh and blood human being) has no rights. Who needs rights? What we have instead, we are told repeatedly, is choices. Great. If you don't like the product - health, education, housing or internet provider - take your custom elsewhere. Of course, the more money you have the more choices you have. If you have no money or very little, you are f..ked.

  4. I'm sure there's a correlation between the amount of choice we have and the perceived quality of those choices. Look at TV. we now have 300 channels yet we remember being better entertained when we had just three. I'm sure that wasn't the case. Choice has spoiled us.

  5. False memory Ian - TV was crap when there were just 3 channels. And there was no escape...

  6. When we moved last year it took me six weeks to NOT get broadband from BT because they were not authorised to remove an AOL 'local line loop' which the previous owners should have cancelled. As an AOL customer (then) I couldn't get them to install broadband either since they could not take their LLLoop off a BT line. Many many calls, which I pay for, eventually revealed that this was all a scam to stop customers deserting one company for another. It took six weeks to penetrate to that final truth after so many lies. In the end I got to supply broadband, which they did efficiently. Their customer ser vice department works well too.

  7. If your problem involves the word 'broadband', I guess you're discovering that in the UK it doesn't mean what we think it means. We're being sold an ideal but without having the infrastructure needed to provide that ideal.

    We're shocked when thing don't work because we live with the naive assumption that they should.

  8. not enough violence and shouting, that's the problem. It helps to start knocking things over and banging your fist on the table while screaming, then return to the phone and say, in a bored drone, "I do not understand. I only want to love you." Also helps to at some point start talking about "the Lord".

  9. Sound advice as ever, Elberry. I just mutter something about the press office. It seems to make things worse.

  10. Precisely, Nige. We can conclude that TV is crap anyway, and having fewer channels exposed us to less crap, and so was better.

    It's the same whenever too much choice is involved. Look at menus. Always avoid restaurants with more than 6 main courses because odds are it won't be good.

  11. Another excellent 'people skills' tactic is to suddenly make a strange choking sound then whisper horribly, "be dirty, be dirty..." like Jack Nicholson in The Departed. Even call centre staff like to feel wanted.

    Can't do any harm, anyway.

  12. Let's face it, most things work 99.999% of the time. The only problem is when it doesn't, it's me - or you.

  13. Rule # 1: Never have dealings with any company that employs more than 500 people; and preferably no more than 150.

    Beyond that, you're on your own amongst people who don't know, couldn't care and can't do anything about anything. Basically, when it comes to banks and utilities, you're buggered.

  14. There are only one or two broadband companies worth signing up with in the UK and I'd guess you're not with them. Apply for your Mac Code, sack the present lot and move on - or get ready for round two. As a consumer, it's the only power we have left. Have you checked out Zen as a broadband outfit? They're said to be very good, probably the best one out there at the moment. No connection with them here haha.

    As for the rest, I try to treat living here as if I were living in India. A huge, sprawling, very corrupt, very messy er er mess where not much every really works. But somehow, though miracles of Sellotape and ingenuity, we seem to rub along OK. Besides, it's always much more interesting travelling in a rickety old bus than it is poncing around in isolation in the taxis and limos of life.

  15. Susan B., blood pressure up,September 05, 2007 5:13 pm

    Bryan, we are on the same wavelength today! I'm still steaming from my encounter earlier today with stupidity, laziness, incompetence, and sheer rudeness at the drug store. --These places sell a lot more than drugs -- I don't know what they're called in England -- and they're a place you can go to grab, as I did, school folders for son; cream for coffee; chocolate bar for me, and a few other random items.

    In the course of my quickly trotting about the aisles -- I had stopped here because I had only a few minutes, the kid had to have the folders, and I needed to get ready for work -- I noticed 6 or 7 employees doing, as the Prince song has it, "something close to nothing but different than the day before." I also saw the youngish manager (you can always recognize these guys by their cheap shirts and ties) kneeling to arrange something that didn't need arranging while meanwhile chatting up a short-skirted young female employee. Their conversation was beyond inane, about what he had in his lunchbox, and in my head I was saying, "Puh-LEEZE shut up, don't torture me anymore with the stupidity of this discourse!"

    On another aisle, another employee, hiding from her coworkers, seemed to be waiting for something. I soon saw what it was, as a big guy rounded the corner in his workboots and dirty tee, just off his workshift from somewhere, and she said, "What up, Dawg?" He said, "Yo, baby, what time you gettin' off tonight?" They spent the next several minutes, while I tried to find the brand of Gatorade my son wanted, setting up their date for the night.

    The worst was yet to come. I finally got in line for the unbelievably slow cashier, and I even let a woman in front of me who just had two things to my 8 or so. She managed to buy her soda and candy and get out and THEN this clerk at the register discovered that his code reader wasn't working. He couldn't get the prices to come up on any of my things. He kept picking up the phone and calling for assistance, but none came. Meanwhile, the line behind me is now 10 people long, a couple of them very old people toting their over-the-counter meds -- I was waiting for one to fall and rebreak a hip.

    "Can't you just manually put in the prices?" I asked.

    "No," he said. "I was suspended for four days doing that and I'm not going to risk it again."

    "Well, let me on the phone then to call your manager, because this is ridiculous. There are 7 or so people working in this store right now and only one register is manned."

    This post is getting way too long and I'm getting pissy again remembering this, but in the end the manager finally appeared and the people in line cheered. He was snappy, at them and me and the cashier, and I calmly told him how I intended to write a letter about the astonishingly lousy service of his store and several of the folks behind me clapped and added their voices.

    Oy. I'm still ticked. What has happened to people in retail? Customers are apparently the last thing on their minds!

  16. Susan, the applause was your just reward.

  17. Sounds like the regular standard of shop assistant in central London, Susan.

    It's only when I travel outside of the UK that I realise the appalling, sneering rudeness and swaggering ineptitude I put up with, particularly in shops selling anything you might like to wear, god forbid. My blood boils for you in sympathy.

    Ian, you're quite right. The belief in the intrinsic benefit of "choice" is the great fallacy of the modern world.

    And spot on, Recusant - this is especially true of ISPs. I recently ditched BT - although every company effectively rents their lines, BT's customer services are staggeringly unhelpful.

    Small can be beautiful, Bryan - just make sure you check the 'contention ratio', which no-one publicises, and which is why broadband speeds are always advertised as "up to X Meg".

    Sadly, I still have to rent a phone line from those BT idiots, and spent 55 minutes on hold at the weekend, trying to give them money.

    Their reasoning for the delay was superb: certain customers had apparently been switched over to a new billing system and only a small percentage of staff thus far had been trained to deal with this! Brilliant!

  18. Unmotivated & unhelpful staff are the product of an overly-hierarchical and regulated workplace. i've been in the belly of the beast for 3 years and at first you try to do your job well; then you're told off for not doing it exactly the way you were instructed (regardless of whether your way works or not), and after enough beastings you just give up and say "okay, i'll just do exactly as i'm told and not an ounce more". Indeed, you go further & actively shirk responsibility & try to do as little work as possible. The initial work ethic succumbs to committed laziness as you see managers on 3 x your pittance who spend all day gossiping and taking cigarette breaks, and you start to reflect that you're working your ass off for the minimum wage, and that every time you go to the water cooler you get a managerial frown, that you're getting roasted for being 2 minutes late in the morning, and all in all why the hell should you care, why not, since you're being paid as little as is legally possible, do as little work as possible?