Gabrielle Bisset

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Trials of Customer Service

I just got off the phone with my bank's internet banking customer service and to say it was an unsatisfactory experience would be an understatement. After wrangling with the squeaky voice young woman over the finer points of internet banking (i.e., why their site is continually locking me out) to which her answer repeatedly was that I was keying in my password wrong (ugh, no, I wasn't), I finally asked in frustration, "So I don't have to do this again, is there anything I can do? Should I use the numbers at the top, are there password lengths that cause problems, is there anything that can help me avoid the hassle of constantly calling you every time I need to use the internet banking?" Her answer? "You should be sure to check that your number lock is on if you use the keypad located on the right side of your keyboard."

No shit, Sherlock.

After hanging up and deciding that this banking relationship isn't going to work (by the way, I REALLY miss the ability to slam a phone down in an idiot's ear), I calmed down and began to think why this is a problem I and everyone I know seems to continually run into these days. I'm in my mid-40s, so I don't really have a lifetime of experience with poor customer service. Many of my friends are younger than I am, so we aren't like a group of old biddies who sit around kvetching about the "old days." However, I think I know what's going on with customer service these days and why it's not going to get any better.

The generation of people who answer our questions on internet banking, why our Amazon account isn't working, how to figure out what's wrong with our many electronic gizmos and gadgets is one which has never really experienced failure. I teach these people every day, and I can assure you that they've never been allowed to fail a thing. (I hear all the time this tragic statement. "But I got all A's in high school. How can I be failing first semester American history?" The answer is simple. You didn't deserve the A's.) They got trophies for showing up, stars for respiration, and applause for meeting the basic requirements. Education and parenting experts told parents that positive affirmation was important, and they went to town on it.

This life of success has created in them a belief that they truly are exceptional. Hell, if you were told all the time that you were special, unique, one of a kind, and wonderful just the way you are, you'd think you're exceptional too. I don't blame the generation talking to me on the phone, to be honest. I blame their parents, their teachers, and their employers.

You may say, "But they're college educated, so they must have experienced failure." Not so quick. That super positive, everyone's a genius at something mentality has oozed up into higher ed, so it's quite likely that the people on the other end of the phone with their bachelor's degrees are no better educated than the high school grads who did similar jobs in the 1980s and before. The difference is that those people understood that they didn't have all the answers. This generation has degrees with lots of great grades that mean about as much as the high school degree meant for most of the 20th century.

And their employers know this. At the university I teach at, we hear from businesses all the time that students aren't prepared for the workplace. They don't know how to do the basics, such as deal with customers, answer questions, and direct inquiries. It's a real mess. Add to that the idea that they're strangely self-centered, and the businessman or woman has a real chore to deal with. But they need employees, so they take what they can get and hope to mold them.

What they run into is what experts have been noting for a few years now. People in their 20s lack an important quality that aids in succeeding in life: empathy. If you doubt this, just take a look at all the instances of bullying. Does it not seem odd that people who have spent a lifetime hearing about how diversity is good and how everyone is special can't seem to understand the feelings of others as generations before them had? Bullying is rampant because the world has told them repeatedly that they're super. The psyche knows when it's being fed bullshit. Deep inside, they know. And they feel like shit about it.

They know that for all the great stuff they've been given, for all the awards they've been presented, for all the wonderful things they've been told they've done, the true fact is just as it was for every other generation of young men and women: You're in your twenties, you don't know shit about life, and the world is a hard place. So they respond with cockiness and I get the number pad answer that makes her sound like a smart ass and makes me hang up on her and leave that bank.

I didn't begin this post with the idea of issuing a clarion call, but as I've typed it's grown to be something I need to do. So here it is. Parents and teachers, stop telling our youth they're so special. They aren't. They're just like us. Human. Full of foibles. Let them fail. It won't kill them, and it just might make their lives happier in the long run, which seems contradictory but has been proven time and again to be true. Failure strengthens us and helps us understand what others are going through. Stop focusing all their assignments on them, which has created a generation of people who can only seem to understand the 1st person POV. Turn their view outward, as it should be. The world outside of the home and school is rarely about I and me, even if much of our culture seems to say it is. The reality is that for the vast majority of us in this world the only way to find any measure of happiness is to understand that what's troubling us is troubling others too. There's a wonderful joy that comes from the solidarity one can find in realizing that it isn't what's different about us that's important. It's what we have in common.