Lord have mercy on the American consumer. We are a spoiled lot. Somewhere along the line we got used to a long list of creature comforts. Running water, electricity, central heat -- those commodities probably arrived in most American homes in that order.Then we got used to having the telephone at our disposal -- one that actually connected to the wall -- and television. Finally came cable television and then internet and wi-fi and all sorts of modern conveniences that we have convinced ourselves that we cannot live without.
Back in the old days it seemed that the service providers for these various utilities were actually interested in providing service. If something went out a courteous representative of said provider would bend over backwards to have someone come and repair the problem. Of course, there was a better than even chance that the person you talked to on the phone was someone you went to church with on Sunday and the person who came out to make the repair might coach your kid's Little League team. That tends to make a difference.
Lately it has been my experience that when it comes to customer service, well, a lot of companies tend to forget the importance of the customer. Service seems to have gone with the winds of change that swept through the south about the time the government broke up Ma Bell.
You'd think it would be just the opposite, wouldn't you? I mean, with jobs at a premium and companies actually having to compete for business nowadays -- see Ma Bell reference above -- you would think that once a business obtained an actual paying customer that they would go out of their way to keep that customer. You'd think that -- but you'd be wrong.
Thursday and Friday past were two of the most frustrating days, for me, in recent memory -- all because I had to deal with a company that promised to be at my beck and call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Let me tell you what happened.
My lovely wife, Lisa, who oversees the budget at our house, decided that she could save a lot of money by bundling our television, Internet and telephone services. That is correct. After a gazillion years, we fired the phone company -- which happened to also be our Internet company. We set up the installation for Thursday because Lisa would be unencumbered by work that day.
I was skeptical about the whole process, understand. This wasn't my first rodeo and I insisted that there was no way the whole procedure could go off without a hitch. I had bad dreams Wednesday night about having to go back to writing my columns in ballpoint pen on yellow legal paper because I couldn't make my new email work. I was certain the phone would go out just as Dakota Fanning was getting ready to call and invite me to be her escort for the Academy Awards. And I was absolutely certain the installation guy wouldn't keep his appointment.
But as Gomer Pyle would say, "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! The cable guy -- who wasn't named Larry, by the way -- came right on time. Actually he was early. He worked diligently, according to Lisa, and got the whole installation done in a couple of hours. The internet worked. Email worked. We were golden. He was just finishing up when I got home. I thanked him. He drove away. sat down to catch a little television.
No picture. No sound. No nothing. Just a blank screen with a little blue bar, promising me that service would be restored soon.
I'm a patient man. I waited. For about three minutes. OK. Maybe two. I called the cable company. Then the frustration began.
Do you know how hard it is to reach a human being when you call a utility? There are prompts followed by prompts followed by prompts. Most are in English, but not all. First they try to get you to listen to a recorded solution for your problem. Then they make you listen to more recorded messages. Then they tell you how long it's going to take them to get to you and try to convince you to leave a call back number. Whatever you do, don't fall for that one.
Finally, I got to speak to a human being. She told me they'd fix the cable Saturday -- maybe.
"Not an option," I told her. I intended to be in Athens Saturday, and I intended to come home and watch the Game of the Century on the same television that worked perfectly until the cable people came and "fixed" it.
Then, the fight started.
I won't give you the gory details, but over the next 22 hours I had to make 11 phone calls, spend approximately two-and-a-half hours on hold, wait a total of four hours for promised return calls that never came, lose my religion half-a-dozen times, and get my mother-in-law involved, heaven help the cable guy.
The story had a happy ending. At noon on Friday -- only 26 hours after the debacle began, my television finally worked again.
If you are reading this, the Internet is still functioning, too. And if you run into Dakota Fanning, please tell her that the phone line is open again -- but she'd better call soon. I'd hate for Keira Knightly to beat her to the punch.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at email@example.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.