I once took my husband to see the play ‘Waiting for Godot’, with Ian McKellen in the starring role. Afterwards, he was puzzled. What was that all about? “Waiting”, I replied, “or should I say the existential experience of waiting”. More puzzlement. “So, what is it about waiting, as opposed to working, or talking, or sitting on a park bench dreaming, that is different from any other human activity?” At this point he sighed in exasperation. The Marxist was not well-attuned to existentialism.
I have been practicing hard on the existential burden of waiting, having been waiting for Vodafone for 21 days and counting. Three weeks ago I went to watch something on the hard drive of my Vodafone/ Sky system and all I got was the black screen of death. The TV still worked. But by the next night, I could not even turn the system on. And, of course, I could not run my TV without the system, so I have been without all TV for three weeks.
I don’t even watch all that much. Maybe two hours a night if I am lucky. But those two hours are my wind down time, and it turns out they are important to me, especially in a cold Christchurch midwinter.
I have now dealt on numerous occasions with the Vodafone phone help system. It is excruciating, run from call centres in Asia. I am quite deaf, and understanding them is incredibly difficult. And when we do communicate, they have been unable to help me. They will come, I have been told, just wait. And wait. And wait. Oh yes, with waits of up to two hours just to get an answer. One time, my phone battery ran out after an hour, forcing me to ring again. Grrr.
They lost my details the first time. They knew I had rung, but nothing further showed in the records. No order was put in, and it took over a week before I contacted them again and was told cheerily that no details were in the system. “Mark”, I said, “I talked with Mark”. They could see I had, but he’d forgotten to put the order in for my new services at all.
To add insult to injury, I have to move to their modern system using the new style boxes. This increases my costs, of course. Also my phone will now be run on the cable system, losing so many of the advantages of the copper system. The upshot is I get the same or slightly fewer services but pay an extra $35 per month. Not at my choosing, but because my system failed.
So I have had plenty of time to contemplate these additional costs while I wait for anyone to bother to contact me. Three days, the Asian phone person says, and now lots of three days’ have gone past.
This customer service is so excruciating that I have even considered changing companies. But I don’t want to be forced into some choice game. I happen to be a loyal customer, and have been a client of these people since they were Telstra Clear, and before that Clear, when they laid cable in our street in 2003.
I have not given up on them yet, but I am getting close. Over more than 15 years I have paid a lot of money to these people, including a monthly service charge as insurance in case anything goes wrong, which appears to be less than useless. I have honestly never come across such disgraceful customer service. Is this the new way? Has our country exported not only call centre jobs, but any vestige of excellent service? When will the waiting be over?
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.