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Alf's Articles

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Gripes

by Alf Nucifora

It's approaching end-of-year crunch time again with innumerable hours spent on sardine-packed airplanes. Nerves are frayed. Tempers flare. And everywhere the customer is on the receiving end of a massive shaft. Time to vent, with a few suggestions thrown in for good measure to dilute the bile and staunch the blood flow. Aside from the Hall-of-Fame candidates, healthcare billing and confusing airline surcharges, here are a few that put this writer's teeth on edge.

  • Waitstaff who have to be asked more than once for refills, condiments or the check. That 20% tip just plummeted to five. If I really had the courage of my convictions, it would be zero.

  • Confusing and lengthy phone menus. Everybody's getting in on this act, with phone companies, cable operators, financial institutions and tech support facilities representing the best-of-breed. By the way, that voice recognition service that everyone's infatuated with right now is particularly infuriating for someone whose accent doesn't approximate the mid-America norm.
  • On-line consumer service representatives who insist on knowing and using my first name without permission. Until you warrant an invitation to my anniversary or birthday party, it's Mr. Nucifora, to you. Only the familiar are accorded first name privilege. I'm a customer, not your friend. That means courtesy and respect, not unfettered license with my name.
  • Bureaucracy of large organizations that can't affect the most simple of administrative chores. It's taken me six months, numerous calls and faxes and much raising of the voice to get a simple address change on an account at a prominent Atlanta banking institution. Their departments and computer systems don't talk to each other, I'm told. It's amazing how effortlessly they got their communications in synch when it was time to levy me with an overdue charge for a statement that went to the wrong address.
  • Service groups that pester me for a top grade in follow-up survey evaluations. The auto service dealers are the worst offenders in this regard. Hey guys! Stop trying to game the system. I know how to fill out a survey. Not only is it potentially bad research, it's annoying. If you do the job correctly, you don't have to beg for gold star.
  • Phone operators who lapse into silence when I ask to be transferred to a particular person or department. Acknowledge the request ("Certainly, I'm connecting you now!") And get back on the line if the call doesn't go through. How am I to know if the connection failed or you're still searching for the extension number?
  • People who speak at warp speed when they leave phone numbers on voice mail. Say it slowly and repeat the number. Some of us are simultaneously trying to cope with a cell phone, note pad and a bad connection. Have some pity, please.
  • High decibel noise in airports and meeting places. Starbucks is the worst offender, by far. They insist on providing tables and chairs as an inducement to work, read or meet, yet they drown out contemplation and conversation with high-decibel music pumped up to satisfy the aural cravings of the baristas. As for my friends at CNN, there's as special place in Hell reserved for those Airport Channel folks who have destroyed more eardrums than all the Rolling Stones concerts combined.
  • And speaking of noise, TV stations need to turn that volume down when they go to a commercial break. Either that or we publicly flog a few advertisers and commercial producers in the public square. That will put an end to an annoying practice that doesn't have to be.
  • Blister packs, those impenetrable packages that require bolt cutters or blow torch to open. As a marketer, I appreciate the need for theft control but do we need the equivalent of Fort Knox to protect a $20 computer cable? And don't get me started on music CD packaging. There's a technology that deserves to die, for more reasons than one.
  • Bad aisle signage in Big Box stores, the likes of Home Depot and their ilk. I wouldn't mind it if I could find a warm body to point me in the right direction. Dream on. A few touch screen kiosks would fill the bill.
  • Surly fast food counter staff. I'm thinking about a recent incident at O'Hare Airport where I was served a cold sandwich by a McDonald's server who possessed the grace and charm of a werewolf on angel dust. Contrast that with the experience at any In-N-Out Burger or most Chick-fil-A's, where the staff smile, the place is spotless and the food actually tastes hot and fresh.
  • A fountain Coke that actually tastes as it should, sweetness and carbonation in perfect balance. In the old days, they had Coke cops who fanatically checked the brix levels. Nowadays, it's a hit-and-miss affair. Mr. Woodruff must be turning in his grave.
  • Misbehaving children on airline flights. Not the babies who are beyond self control, just the over-indulged, badly-bred youngsters of walking age, who understand the meaning of "no!" but never hear it at home. When I'm Supreme Commander of the FAA, they go downstairs in the cargo compartment with the pets, where they belong.
  • Power outlets in hotels and airports that are generally at floor level. These new-fangled laptop computers have only been around for a decade or so.
  • Tech support boiler rooms in India. It's not about race or prejudice. When I hear that accent I know I'm dealing with an automaton who's working from a screen and script and who will never understand the cultural nuances accompanying the call, irrespective of the training. You need more than a Berlitz grasp of language to read the signs and signals of a concerned or complaining customer. Call it deciphering body language of the voice. And it takes time and empathy to perfect the skill.
  • Failure to respond or follow up. Emails requesting brand or product information still don't get returned promptly. And my Acura dealer lost the sale on four new Michelins because the rep forgot to provide the estimate while the car was being serviced, and later by phone, in spite of two requests. The discount tire outlet up the road was happy to have the business.
  • Lack of acknowledgement. If I'm a loyal customer, recognize me. Even if you can't see the face, the data exists on the computer screen in front of your eyes. That's why you've installed those expensive CRM systems. We customers can never get enough love or recognition.
  • Those Kinkos operators who studiously ignore me from behind the counter, self-absorbed in some weighty reproduction chore that demands that I, the counter customer, wait my turn and time, like all good cattle waiting to be fed.
  • And finally, the book store. I love visiting Barnes & Noble and Borders. But why is it that the computer says the book is in stock but no one can find it? It's why my Amazon account grows every year.

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