Customer Service. What a Concept.

Case #1: let's imagine a purely hypothetical situation in which I receive housekeeping services from a particular organization. Let's further imagine them hypothetically calling me to inform me that my regular housekeeper will be away for five weeks and that they will be contracting out housekeeping services to a temp agency. We could also imagine that I asked whether I will get the same person every week, to which they hypothetically respond that this can't be guaranteed. Leading to the hypothetical situation of having to take three hours every week - an amount of time that often represents most of my entire workday - to run around after someone telling them how to clean my apartment.

Case #2: let's imagine my mother hypothetically having an appointment with a physiotherapist at about 2 PM. Let's further imagine she got the call at nine o'clock in the morning from the physiotherapist saying that they're close by and could they come now. When my mother (hypothetically) replies that no, she's not ready, they asked if they could come around 10. To which my mother hypothetically stated that no, she was not available. At which time the physiotherapist hypothetically got snippy.

I've been kicking around a nice head of steam about Case #1 (hypothetically, of course - let's just assume that this qualifier will proceed any further discussion of such pretend situations) and when I heard about Case #2, it all came together with an audible click in my brain. Because that's when I realized that it was all an extension of the prevailing attitude towards old people that they have nothing to do except sit around and knit or twiddle their thumbs and therefore their time belongs not to themselves, but to the people who provide services for them.

(Not that I'm calling my mother old, y'unnerstand. I value my life too much to ever say such a thing)

The same attitude permeates services for people with disabilities. Because apparently we have no lives and therefore it doesn't matter when we receive services or by whom, because we're not doing anything anyway. And should we kick off a bit of a fuss at this attempted hijacking of our lives, service providers very often get quite snippy at us daring to inconvenience them in such a way.

I have a theory that it comes from such services originating eons ago in charity, yet somehow never quite having shook off the attitude of charity despite now being publicly funded by tax dollars. Because nevermind if these services are provided because it is considered a right, not a privilege (yes, that again). Or that we are paying for them, either directly through insurance or indirectly through our taxes. If you want good service, you have to be nice, play the good little cripple/sweet old lady and jump through the hoops of that ridiculous role-playing where it behooves you to make the person feel good about providing the service for you. The service that I feel compelled to point out yet again that they are getting paid a nice wage to provide.

None of them seem to understand that we are their customers. And that's partly because we often don't have a choice, can’t take our business elsewhere, but even so, that shouldn't matter. What should matter is them understanding that they're mandated to provide this service that is based in a philosophy of respect and dignity and if the implementation/provision of that service is not done with respect and dignity, they are not fulfilling their mandate. In other words, they are not doing their job.

But this never seems to be part of training of such service providers. Or if it is, it's not followed up with any sort of further training, customer feedback and accountability. At least, it doesn't seem that way, because it's so pervasive within services to people who need that extra bit of help getting through their lives. And should you put your foot down, draw line in the sand and gently - sometimes not so gently - insist that you get treated like a regular person and perhaps even a customer, it's like bouncing off a wall of Jell-O. It's ridiculous that you have to fight that hard to have your time respected.

Sometimes, I wonder if we would all have a lot more energy if we didn't have to spend quite so much time educating those who are mandated to help us.


Kia said…
AlisonH said…
If only there were a customer satisfaction survey afterward.
Meg said…
YES!! You're right. And it happens when you are paying, out of pocket, even higher rates than those with insurance pay (in the US)plus being looked down upon because you can't afford the insurance. GRR!! I think you hit a nerve today!
liz said…
A very fine article and exceptional blog. Is there any way I can subscribe to new articles, you know like acquiring them on email or something like that.
Diane said…
Something like the recent trouble we had with our landline phone: no dial tone. We tested to make sure it was their equipment, called it in using a cell phone and got told they'll check it out sometime. No confirmation of any kind on their part as to status. We had to figure out that it was working again on our own.

Mediocre and poor customer service is not reserved only for those with disabilities or seniors...everyone is subjected to it.