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Service Times Three

by Stephen Lautens


September 13, 2002

Canada's service sector is booming. You know - that part of our economy that's based on paying people to do things for you. Instead of manufacturing or natural resources, we've become a nation of people answering help lines and pushing around little bits of paper.

Even so I figure the Canadian economy is vastly inflated, since it seems like it takes at least three tries before anyone in the service industry gets anything right. If we started doing things right the first time, millions of people would have to be laid off and our economy would collapse.

For example, a while back I was having a rust spot on the car touched up. It was near a window, so it turns out they took out the glass to do the work. I came down to pick up the car and the paint job was great - except the window wasn't put back in properly. A whole corner wasn't in the frame. A service guy tried to convince me it was fine, until I got my fingers under it and offered show how I could pull the whole thing out with my bare hands.

To make a very long story slightly shorter, I dragged myself back to the dealership no less than four times, each time after being assured they had personally inspected the window and it was now fixed. Of course it wasn't, and it was never explained to me why trained car care professionals (them) couldn't tell there was something wrong, while someone who barely knows where the gas goes (me) could see from across the lot that it hadn't been done right.

I estimate that they managed to stretch a simple hour job into a two-day project, not including about eight hours of my time. And as they say, for them it's all pensionable time.

About a year ago an over-enthusiastic sales person at the local phone company decided that my call to inquire about the cost of their high speed internet was an order. When the bills started to arrive I politely called to say I hadn't ordered the service and in fact wasn't getting it. They took down the details, apologised and told me it would be cancelled. Since then I've called five more times - each time promised by a service rep that it would be fixed. I still get a two-page bill them every month, but it always shows $0.00 owing. I guess they don't want to lose me as a non-customer.

Last week I ordered something out of a catalogue. I had a long conversation with the service rep about how it had to be delivered to my office, since there might not be anyone home during the day. They took down the office address, I paid $20 for shipping and guess what? The next day I came home to find a courier note on my door saying I had missed the delivery at my house and now I had to go half way across town to pick up the thing I had paid to be delivered.

A call to the company resulted in their helpful suggestion that it would really be easier for them if I went to pick it up myself. As the customer of course my main concern is that the company not be inconvenienced.

Even the newspaper industry isn't immune to this service inflation. We tried without success all summer to stop our weekend paper delivery. (Before you jump to conclusions, I want to make it clear I'm not talking about The Sun. It's one of the boring other ones. So there.) We don't want them piling up on the porch to let burglars know we're away on weekends. 

Of course every Sunday night we'd come home and find a pile of papers at the front door. Another call to a customer service rep, another promise that it wouldn't happen again, and sure enough the next weekend we had more for the recycling bin. I bet our calls alone kept two summer students gainfully employed.

If everyone in Canada's service industry did things right the first time, we'd only need a handful of them in the whole country - a dozen at most. 

But then where would our economy be?

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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