It is universally known and accepted that America is the land of customer service. It is the place that has made the purchase and receipt of products or services so smooth, so pleasant, and so utterly effortless that you barely notice that you have just parted with your money. Welcome to the crib of coddled consumerists. Now what can I help you with today?
I’ve been back in the US for about 3 weeks now and I am working my way through a lengthy “To Do” list of bits and bobs that I had left unattended for the past several years due to being in Africa or on the road. As my return to the US approached, and as my list grew correspondingly longer and more detailed, a ball of dread started to well up in my stomach. I thought to myself, this is surely going to be a pain in the backside to attend to all these chores.
Wrong. I had completely and totally forgotten how EASY it is to get things done in the US. I keep preparing myself for the worst, expecting all sorts of setbacks, and I am continuously (and pleasantly) surprised by how simple it is to achieve things, from opening up and closing bank accounts, to doing government paperwork, to buying anything you need. Surely something is going to go horribly, terribly wrong? Or is it really that simple?
It reminds me of the first time I moved back to Europe in 2011 after an extended stay in Africa, and I found myself persisting in compulsively hoarding paper products (napkins, tissues, etc.) in my purse and pockets in preparation for visits to the toilet. Every time I went to the toilet, I just couldn’t believe there was toilet paper and soap in there. It wasn’t until I was on the train once, and even the toilets there had toilet tissue – the train! – that I finally let go of the habit. (This time around, my issue is that I can’t come across a free pen without grabbing it.)
When I lived in the UK, I used to hate calling my British bank, Barclays. Firstly, I’d have to call a customer service number which was NOT free to call, pay 5 pence (8 US cents) per minute for the pleasure of being put on hold (for at least 10 minutes), and then cope with a nearly incomprehensible Scouse accent from an ill-trained and under-paid customer service representative in a Liverpool call center.
When I call Bank of America today, I dialed a free 1-800 number, glided easily through an automated system that is actually functional (clearly there have been major improvements in this technology since 1999), and then conversed with a well-spoken and well-mannered representative named Mindy with impeccable phone etiquette and a relentless desire to satisfy my every need as efficiently and effectively as possible. Any necessary holds were excused with profuse apologies, I was continuously addressed by name, and the call was ended with a question: “Is there anything else I can do for you today?”
Sometimes I find myself inventing additional questions to ask, just so I can be further soothed and pampered. I mean, Mindy just makes me feel like the best customer in the world. And, after she has made sure there is nothing else she can do for me, she always wishes me good-bye: “Now you have a nice day!”