When it comes to customer service, these are — to filch a phrase from Charles Dickens — the worst of times and the best of times.
Technology, of course, gets the blame and the credit.
On one hand, technology allows so much to happen quickly, including all kinds of orders, deliveries and communications.
On the other, technology allows companies to automate what used to be handled by humans with hearts and brains. That has led to such modern evils as unnavigable voicemail systems and computerized emails that offer meaningless reassurance.
Just one example: Earlier this year, I had a minor go-around with a hotel conglomerate. I had signed on to their loyalty program, which awards points for stays at member hotels. When one of the stays didn’t appear on my account, I contacted the conglomerate by email.
I hoped they would check my information with the hotel and fix the problem. Instead the process took more than a month, included more than 20 email exchanges and involved sending copies of the receipt four times. Most of the emails I received from the company were non-responsive responses. You know what I’m talking about: “Thank you for ….. we are eager to ….. please do not reply to this email …”
But I got stubborn and persevered, and eventually the situation was resolved.
On the plus side of the customer service equation is that most businesses understand that customers now have effective means of bad-mouthing them, fairly or not.
For example, online reviews have become a huge industry. Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor and Angie’s List are just a few of the long list of companies in the business of rating services, people and other businesses.
Many reviews are legit, but not all. Some come from unreasonable customers unfairly bashing someone.
An even bigger problem is that many of the rating companies aren’t entirely honest with consumers. They require businesses to pay fees or buy advertising to get higher ratings or inclusion on their lists.
So while online reviews and ratings provide consumers and travelers with useful information, they come with a downside. Ratings often aren’t what they are advertised to be. Also, small businesses with limited resources are penalized.
Even more suspect are social media posts. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other companies offer platforms cluttered with ads disguised as posts with information from friends or followers.
Sure, the companies say they have rules about advertising, but there really is no way to sort who is getting paid to post material on social media.
Add to that the new American pastime of using social media to shame a business or person.
Have a bad experience at a restaurant, mall, drug store or hotel? Just go online and claim racism, harassment or rude or callous treatment. Yes, some of the claims are true. But some are fiction, or exaggerated descriptions posted by people looking for publicity, revenge and money.
The next time you see such a post, keep in mind that what you see is one-sided and perhaps untrue. We don’t seem willing in the 21st century to allow time to assess what really happened but instead eagerly react.
The technology environment encourages exploitation of our tendency to believe what we want to believe — without checking facts or considering consequences.
That allows for instant gratification, perhaps, but it often leads to longer-term regrets.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.