Customer Service Gone Horribly, Horribly Wrong

Despite the millions of dollars and endless energy that is put into defining, training, providing, and complaining about customer service, precious few companies get it right. I have learned over the years that I don’t really want to spend that much energy on it — either way, good or bad, so I try to take the majority of it in stride. Middling average, nothing great and nothing awful is good enough for me. But recently I have experienced two extremes on the spectrum that are equally annoying and make me wish for disengaged millennials in a call center reading from a script.

The first one is, no big surprise, the USPS. There will be an entire blog post devoted to them at some point — either when this issue gets resolved, or I just need to comment on what it’s like to stare into the dark, empty, black hole of bureaucratic nonsense. In short, my packages and half my mail is not getting delivered. I’m an online ordering whore, so this is a serious problem. For those of you who actually shop in stores, most online retailers now use something called SmartPost, which you can tell right off the bat screams the classic bureaucratic tactic of putting lipstick on a pig; the real name should be DumbPost or NoPost. When things are sent by, *ahem* “SmartPost,” a reliable carrier like UPS or FedEx delivers your package to your local post office, where most packages go to die. Your USPS carrier then “delivers” the package to you, in theory. I’ve gotten annoyingly chirpy texts and emails from UPS and even the USPS that say, “Your package has been delivered!” And since September, no, it bloody well hasn’t.

Think that USPS tracking number will help you? Bwa-ah-ah-ah (cue thunder-clap). Here’s what will happen: you will go to the post office, wielding your tracking number. They will look it up and tell you to call the post office package facility, which by the way, is at a different, undisclosed location. You will call the package facility and give them the tracking number. They will claim to type it into a computer and tell you they need to research it and call you back. They will not call you back. After two weeks of you calling them four times to reenact this scenario, they will tell you. “We looked everywhere and we can’t find it. The carrier doesn’t remember it. Have another one sent.” Hmmm, so you can lose that one too? MInd you, there was no apology or explanation of how they failed to do the one task they are responsible for executing. Nice.

And don’t bother to fill the online customer service complaint form. I’ve done it twice within a few weeks, and after it pretends to let you arduously fill all the gory details about how the USPS has screwed you over and you hit the submit button, it tells you the webpage is currently unavailable. How convenient. I’m sure they want you to call and talk to someone so there is no physical evidence. I’m working up to getting the strength for that call, so I can waste more of my time over something I shouldn’t have to be dealing with. Did I mention they have one job? Deliver shit. One. Job.

Customer service part two. On the other end of the spectrum we have creepy CVS. I use a nasal spray for seasonal allergies. I use it randomly and refill it randomly. I started getting robocalls reminding me to refill it, but I wasn’t finished with it. After the third robocall, I listened to the very end and it gave a number to call to stop the reminder messages. Great! I called the number and stopped the calls. That’s good customer service.

But then I got a call from an actual pharmacy person who said my profile wasn’t complete, and I needed to call them. I ignored it because, clearly, they have the right phone number, and I get their emails, so whatever wasn’t in my profile couldn’t be that urgent. But I was wrong. It was urgent for them because not even a week later I got another phone call from another live pharmacy person saying my profile wasn’t complete.

Christ! Look, people, I have enough to do calling the goddamn post office every other day to give them tracking a tracking number so they can pretend to click on a keyboard and lose my packages. Now I have to call CVS in the name of customer service?

So I put my big girl pants on and called. “Um, I got a call about my profile being incomplete?” I said, making it clear that I was confused by the oddity of this request.

“Oh, yes, we noticed you haven’t refilled your prescription for your nasal spray. Are you still using it?” WTF? I felt vaguely violated. Do they also call you and ask you about your embarrassing skin rash cream? Your herpes or crabs medicine? I work at a hospital, so I know this wasn’t exactly a patient privacy violation. Technically, the pharmacist people are involved in your care so they should have access to your information. But still it felt weird. Plus, then I had to justify my non-use to a stranger. I have enough trouble keeping my bad health habits from my doctor, and now I have to do it for the CVS person.

“I don’t use it all the time. Only when I need it.” I paused. There was a disapproving silence on the other end of the phone. “So I don’t need to refill it that much,” I ended lamely, feeling mad about being embarrassed and by the fact that technically, that’s not really “profile” information. When you go online and look at your account profile for, oh, pretty much anything, it’s basic contact information. How much you use their product is not a part of that. We all know they have a secret profile of us, but most places have the good sense to hide that from you. Otherwise we might feel freaked out and violated like when CVS calls you about your goddamn nasal spray usage.

“OK, thank you for calling CVS.” Don’t thank me, girlie — go make your nasal spray quota on someone else. And while you’re at it, can you look up my USPS tracking number?



  1. I can barely type for laughing! What customer service!

    As an alternative, I’d like to offer my recent experience with the CA DMV. Without an appointment (yeah, that was too complicated to figure out online), I stroll into the local DMV to register my car in my new state during my lunch hour. The bored woman behind the counter asks if I’ve brought any paperwork. Being the diligent person I am, I pull out the seeming ream of paper required to register your car in a new state. “Do you have the VIN verification?” “uhh…What is that?” I ask. Clearly I don’t. “Pull your car around the other side of the building, pop the hood and someone will help you.” she says. Skeptical and uncertain how much time this is going to take – and whether I’ll make it back to work in time – I go back out to my car and pull it around the side of the building. There are no signs, but for those waiting to take a driving test, so I just pull up in a lane, pop my hood and pull out my book to wait for something to happen. I’m not a paragraph in when a man startles me with “Need a VIN check?” Why yes, yes I do. He’s has the requisite DMV clipboard and the “I know something you don’t” look. It takes 2 min for him to fill out the paperwork. As he hands it to me he says, “Welcome to California.” Welcome to California? Am I at the DMV or Disneyland? Okay, the guy is clearly having an off day and had his happy juice.

    Feeling a bit up beat, I park my car again and head back to the counter. I hand the woman the ream of paper plus the VIN verification. “Take a number and take a seat” was the response. So, again, I pull out my book to settle in for what I presume will be at least 30 min to have my number called. I kid you not, I don’t finish the page before my number is called. WTF?!? I had gotten into work early so I could take an extended lunch to deal with the neuroses of the DMV. What is going on? So, I pick up my stuff and head to the counter. “Hi,” says the cheery woman at the desk. Cheery? You work at the DMV! “Do you have your old plates?” I didn’t – they were still on my car. The woman pulls out a bunch of tools, hands them to me and says, “go get the plates and hurry back.” Since when does a DMV give you a screwdriver and what not? Okay — so, out to my car, pull the plates, come back inside. She has processed my paperwork, figured out my fee and is walking me through which stickers to put on which plate in one breath. I’m flying high — I used to joke with a friend that I’d love to make it fun to go to the DMV. I’m now thinking I didn’t set my sights high enough. The IRS maybe? As I’m writing the check, she asks, “Do you have your CA license yet?” I didn’t – as I had to take a written exam (yeah – 20 years of driving and 4 licenses later and I’m still nervous about passing the exam), I was putting it off. “No, no.” she says. “You must get your CA license. Let’s find you an appt.” I’m not kidding, there was one later that day. When can you ever get a same day appt, when the first is after 12p?

    So, to recap, I’ve been welcomed to CA, spent less than 60 min at the DMV and under 10 min total wait time, and they made an appt for me same day to come back and convert my license/take the test. I am blown away.

    When I return at my appointed time, I don’t bother pulling out my book. I start day dreaming and sure enough, I am called within 5 min. Up to the counter… name, rank & serial number, eye test — sign here, initial there — go to the photo line — click, click (yes, classic license photo) — go take your test on the computer — A, B, D, D, A, etc — go to processing line — stamp, print, sign here. Within 45 min, I have completed all steps (Yay, passed my drivers test!) and am given my temporary license. No whining, no waiting — what a joy and wonderful customer service!

    I don’t know what is says about the state of affairs when the best customer service I’ve had in a long time is from the DMV, but I’m still blown away by how easy they made it!

  2. That is simply astonishing for us Right Coasters! Thanks for sharing and just confirms for me California is weird! 🙂 Happy DMVs are unnatural.

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