Saturday, June 16, 2012

Asterisks and Ampersands...and Operators 'From Away'....

My desk phone...I have no idea how to program the time, and Josie-Earl is responsible for an accurate date!

Last month I cussed at a stranger on the telephone.  I actually swore.  In front of my teenage daughter, no less.  Ugh.  What an awful example to set.
Here at The F.A.R.M., we occasionally take a hiatus from television.  I’ve cancelled the satellite dish service for months at a time because I thought the kids were watching too much TV, or were fighting over it excessively.  Terminating the service took care of the problem much more satisfactorily than constantly scolding them did—and it also reinforced the fact that when Mum says “Quit fighting over that thing or I’ll get rid of it”—she means it. 
But last September, facing a winter with rising expenses and reduced income, Steven and I cut non-essentials out of our household budget.  I called DISH Network and suspended the service. 
I reactivated it this Spring.  At that time, I told the customer service representative that our remotes hadn’t been working very well the previous autumn, and he assured me that if that were still the case, DISH would replace them.  He reminded me that for many years we’d paid an extra $5.00 per month for insurance, which would cover their replacement. 
I thanked the young man.  And we very slowly resumed the habit of turning on the TV to catch the news or watch a favorite sit-com.
But only the upstairs remote was functional, and that was sporadic.  Josie and Eli couldn’t watch TV in the living room, so they’d pile onto my bed to watch a show.  My bed is in my bedroom—and that’s also where my home office is.   This new arrangement wasn’t working (because when the TV was on, I wasn’t able to concentrate on working) so I finally called DISH to order two new remote controls.
The CSR—I’ll call him “Jim”– was very polite.  His foreign accent was strong, however; and that immediately put me on edge.  Too many times have I suffered through painful conversations where I’m not understood and I can’t understand what’s being said.  It’s incredibly frustrating.
I quickly explained what I wanted.  It was simple.  I needed my remote controls replaced.  They were several years old and the buttons didn’t work.  On one, the buttons had actually fallen inside the plastic holes.  On the other, they had to be manipulated with some degree of finesse in order for them to work.  And…I had insurance to cover their replacement.  Simple, right?
Nope.  Not even close.
I had to explain what was wrong with the units.  Not once, but over and over and over again.  I had to explain the TV set-up, the room lay-out, the system design.  No, we didn’t have two receivers.  Yes, the system had worked that way.

Jim wanted the Smartcard numbers.  The Smartcard was in the downstairs receiver and my phone wasn’t a ‘cordless’ model.  I sent Josie to retrieve it.  I read the numbers and explained—again and specifically—what was wrong with the units.
Jim wanted to send me ONE remote.  After all, the second remote worked sometimes.  Most of the time.  IF you knew exactly how to rock your finger on this button or depress your thumb extra-hard on that button—then it worked, right?  
Yes, Jim decided that we only needed one new remote control.
I got a little testy.  How much had I paid for insurance over the years?  $400.00?  $500.00?  Maybe $600.00?  And this young upstart was prepared to deny me a chintzy, cheaply-made remote control?  On what premise?  Of course his goal was to maximize returns for his employer!  I knew he’d probably sat through training courses like “How To Maximize Corporate Profits (i.e. Politely Bamboozle Your Customer) In Order To Retain Your Job”.  And I knew it wasn’t Jim who created DISH’s ‘Replacement Policy’.  But I paid for insurance, I had two substandard remote controls, and I wanted two replacements.  Was that unreasonable? 
Jim placed me on hold while he consulted his supervisor—no doubt ‘standard policy’ when dealing with a bamboozle-proof customer.  Upon re-entering the conversation, he informed me that yes—he would be able to send me that second remote.  I was elated and relieved.  I was very busy and while talking to Jim, I wasn’t getting my work done.  I was ready to hang up, but it wasn’t that easy.  First, Jim—with his strongly accented English--wanted to try to guide me in an over-the-phone ‘reprogram’ of unit that (sometimes) worked.
I was flabbergasted.  The remote was broken.  The buttons wiggled when they should have waggled.  Jim asked for a fifth or sixth explanation of what—EXACTLY—was wrong with the remote.  His voice was getting edgy and I wondered if his job was riding on whether or not he saved his company the cost of that second remote.  But I was beyond caring.   Every time he reworded and repeated his question, it sounded like he was challenging my honesty.   I’d already told him what was wrong!  I’d even offered to mail the remotes back to DISH—and he’d turned down my offer.  He’d already received approval for the second remote from his supervisor!  And…I BOUGHT THEIR INSURANCE!
“Ma’am, before I can send a second remote, I need to know EXACTLY what it does!”
I lost all patience and good humor.  With Josie listening behind me, I practically hollered.
“For *****’s sake, how many times do I have to tell you?!  Is this conversation being recorded for training purposes?  I hope so, because this is EXACTLY what NOT to do!  I’ve TOLD you what’s wrong; I’ve OFFERED to send them to you so you can see for yourself.  Now I’ve had it!   Are you going to send me two remotes, or shall I switch to Direct-TV?”
“Yes, ma’am, this is being recorded.  Yes, I’ll send you two remotes.”
“Excellent.  What date can I expect to receive them?”
“They will be delivered to your home on April 4th.”
“Thank you!”
As if we’d never had a long, substantive (and slightly heated) conversation, Jim said, “Thank you for calling DISH Network.  Is there anything else I can do for you, today, ma’am?”
How could I not laugh at a question which exhibited such a total disconnect from reality?  Sheesh!
There was no package in front of my door when I got home from work on April 4th and I began to feel the burn of indignation.  However, Steven spied a small box on the side porch the next morning. 
I retrieved it.  Opened it.  Saw the new remote control unit nestled inside.
All by its lonesome.           
And yes, that fact prompted asterisks, galore.


  1. Did you cuss a blue streak ? I would have !
    We have a huge telecommunications company here called Telstra. The same thing happens, you call & get to speak to someone on the other side of the world who can't really understand you let alone what you are talking about so they put you on hold forever until finally another person from somewhere else in the world deigns to answer and so it goes on, and on, and on.......

  2. Yep. Asterisks and ampersands say it all.