“Your call is important to us.” How often have you heard that gibberish when you’ve phoned some sort of service provider?

Your call is so important that we’re going to put you on hold for an indeterminate amount of time, forcing you to listen to the worst elevator music we could dredge up, with no sense of how long you’re going to be stuck in this twilight zone. But, of course, we value your business.

This is customer service, it seems, in the digital age.

What the message really means is that trimming costs is important to us, as we have reduced the number of people who respond to customer calls to a bare minimum and, whenever possible, we’ve outsourced these jobs to low-wage jurisdictions. And, sorry, but none of these cost savings are being passed along to you.

What we really want you to do is go to our website, or download our app, and see if you can find a solution to your problem there. Another way of saying: “Fix it yourself.” That move typically ends up stymied by a finite list of options, none of which comes close to addressing your particular concern. What the FAQ!

This has been my recent experience with my on-line bank. Hence the grumpiness. I’ve sat on hold several times now, before giving up. The bank’s call-back option hasn’t been available, nor does the bank’s website provide an email address with which I could appeal for assistance. And the chat bot is useless. In fact, I’ve resorted to sending the company a letter outlining my original problem along with my complaint about trying to get someone to address it. A letter, a stamp, a visit to the post office. How 20th century! I’m not sure to which individual or department I should address it. Maybe I should check the ‘contact us’ page on the website.

This isn’t a singular experience. Customer service has become the latest DIY arena, offloading work that used to be done by employees to the customer. Self-check-out, for example.

Some of these innovations, I can admit, make life easier. I’m all in favour of ATMs, meaning I don’t have to line up, during banking hours, to make a simple withdrawal or deposit. Unless, of course, I wind up behind someone who can’t figure out which of the buttons to push. I can remember the days when payday meant rushing to the bank on a Friday before 6 p.m. to cash your cheque and waiting in line with all the others who were paid that day. Can’t get there by 6? See you Monday – unless Monday’s a holiday, of course. I don’t miss those days.

I know I’m being a tad inconsistent here, but I’m also down with self-serve gas stations where you can pay at the pump. Quick and easy. Even then, though, there is a downside. If you require any service beyond filling your tank, washing your windshield, checking the oil, and buying some ice cream, you’re out of luck. Got an engine problem? Sorry, we don’t have any mechanics.

And yes, despite my continued concern that we’re all losing the ability to read a map, I’ve become a GPS convert, particularly as the application becomes more and more reliable.

I love my smartphone, but I’m slowly realizing that it’s something of a Trojan horse. Companies are increasingly assuming, first, that you have one, preferably the latest model. And secondly, that you know how to use it beyond managing the simplest of functions. For example, restaurant menus are rapidly disappearing – COVID being the preferred excuse – requiring diners to scan a QR code to find out what’s on offer. Sorry, but I’m old school, and because Dianne doesn’t carry her smartphone, sharing the screen becomes awkward. (I’ve found, though, that if you fumble around long enough trying to get the framing just right, the server will bring you a proper menu).

Dianne and I were fortunate enough to attend a major-league baseball game recently. I bought the tickets online – easy peasy – but to access them, I had to download yet another app. Simple enough, but of course I’ve been bombarded with promotional texts and emails ever since. And what I didn’t know, until we were at the head of the long line heading into the stadium, was that I had to reboot my phone before the app would produce the e-tickets. Sorry for the delay, folks, it’s my first time.

Hmmm, what was it I said about those who fumble with the ATM keys?

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