There are so many conventions these days that it’s hard to keep up. There are political conventions, of course, computer conventions, electronic conventions, comic book conventions and science fiction conventions. Naturally there is also a convention convention where those who put on conventions meet to discuss things in, well, conventional terms.
Many of these conventions get featured on the mainstream cable news channels, especially if it is a slow news day. However, there is one important convention that does not get a lot of mainstream focus; no, I’m not talking about the Ham Radio Convention in Dayton, Ohio in two weeks. I’m talking the Customer Service Convention.
It was a happy accident that I discovered the Customer Service Convention. Originally I had planned on attending the Psychics Convention; that is sometimes difficult because they don’t post a lot of information about their meetings, because, well, they’re psychics and they already know. This year they were so in tune with the universe that not only did they not post information about the planned convention, they decided that they all already knew what was going to happen, so they skipped the convention as being entirely unnecessary.
The only one caught off guard by this (besides me) was the hotel at which the convention was to be held. This is not an uncommon occurrence and explains why for the Psychic Convention all rooms must be paid for in advance and are nonrefundable. The hotel scrambled to find another event and ended up with the Customer Service Convention. In years past this was a relatively small event encompassing mainly the employees from United States Postal Service and the Departments of Motor Vehicles. With the decline of the USPS, membership has been opened to other suitable organizations. It’s a sad note that while postal workers were once seen as the model for customer service, today they are looked at with scorn. They keynote speaker put it rather well in his remarks.
“At one time the Post Office could make you jump through any hoop, wait in any line, pay any price and suffer any indignity regardless of who you were or how much you were worth. Today it mainly hands out junk advertisements like some hawker handing out tickets in front of a strip club in New Orleans or Las Vegas.
“However, as we have shifted from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, many other industries have filled this void and learned how to treat customers badly and like it! In the past years we’ve made advances such as we never expected. Let’s take a look at some historic customer service milestones.
“In the Sixties the telephone company was a monopoly so complete that it was illegal for a person to even own a telephone. Long distance calls were usually completed with operator assistance meaning you did exactly what you were told or your call would not go through. The phone company didn’t care who died, or how important the call was, it was ‘My way or the highway’ and they meant it. If you didn’t cooperate you could literally be forced to get in your car and drive your message to the recipient.
“In the Seventies the cable companies trained everyone to expect to wait and wait and wait. They would say that they would be at the customer’s site ‘Sometime between 8:00 AM and Noon’ or “Between Noon and five o’clock’ but everyone knew it really meant ‘Sometime between when we feel like it and when hell freezes over.’
“In the Nineties, fast food perfected the self-obfuscating intercom system thereby making it so that neither the customer nor the drive through attendant had any idea as to what the other was saying. Of course, this was somewhat quaint as the expectation that customers would receive what they had ordered had long been laid to rest. Drive-throughs were like a box of chocolates, like Forrest Gumpp would say. You never knew what you would get.
“Then came the airlines that eliminated meals, snacks, drinks and 25% of the size of the seat. When passengers didn’t rebel they followed that up with charges to check bags. Not only was that genius, but, and this still cracks me up – After they charge to check your bag, if they lose it (at this point the speaker lost his composure completely and began to giggle uncontrollably) THEY DON’T EVEN REFUND THE CHECKED BAG FEE!
“But now we’re in the second decade of the twenty-first century and it is my proud duty to talk about the new industry leader that is defining Customer Service! Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s give a round of applause to the healthcare industry!
“Nowhere else does a customer sign a statement that talks about his right to privacy at the same time he is required to write his full name on a page so all the other patients know who’s who. This may be merely a trifle at the family doctor, but is pretty embarrassing at the proctologists or sexual dysfunction clinic. And just to make sure everyone knows everyone else’s business, the receptionist makes no effort to be discrete but bellows out the patient’s full name so that everyone can put a face with the name as the patient stands up.
“Of course, it’s always fun to give that personal touch and doctors’ office personnel have proven especially adept at this. You’ve heard it; ‘The hemorrhoids giving you any trouble today, Mr. Johnson?’ or ‘I hope that nasty rash has cleared up Mrs. Jones so that you can ride your bike and get back to your horseback riding.’ And most fun of all is, “Well now that you’re done with your antibiotic treatment, let’s see if the doctor will refill your Viagra prescription for you.
“But it’s not just in what you say, or how you say it. We all know that actions speak louder than words. Some of the innovations that we’re seeing in healthcare are requiring the patient to repeatedly write the same information on form after form after form. Bringing documentation to prove they’re insured, documentation to prove their identity and then documentation to prove that what they brought is their documentation.
“Last but not least is the latest technique in Customer Service that has won the healthcare industry this year’s special recognition. There are now doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals – are you ready for this? There are now doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals that CHARGE THE PATIENT FOR FILLING OUT THE PAPERWORK!
“Now I have much more to say on this, and I know you’ll find it interesting, but it’s time for my break. Everyone needs to sit down and shut up and wait until I get back. Thank you.”
Copyright 2011 SF Nowak – All Rights Reserved