1/01/2020
Empathy

I'm pretty sure customer service representatives are taught to, at the very least, sound like they understand their customers' predicament.

"Uh, I'm sorry to hear about that, sir."

The problem is, it doesn't really feel reassuring, especially if you're the customer calling for the nth time in a week, demanding answers for a problem that's remained unsolved for months. Like, say, if you're a PLDT customer who's had virtually unusable Internet for weeks, more often off than on.

"I'm sorry to hear about that sir. Uh, can I have your full name again so I can address you properly?"

You understand that customer service representatives are just following a script. They have to sound reassuring and make sure the workflow is followed the exact way they have been asked to do so. You also understand that, in the grand scheme of things, they really can't do much about your problem outside of sending reports over to those who can do something. But then again, you have virtually unusable Internet for weeks. It goes off for thirty minutes, comes on for one minute, and goes back off for an hour. You've called every other day demanding updates, but they don't really have anything else to say.

"I'm so sorry to hear that, sir. Can I ask for your full name so I can address you properly?"

Naturally, it gets infuriating after a while.

I'm not proud of it, but I have lashed out at a customer service representative. I've done it at least thrice, twice in the last month, and all to PLDT. But then - and again, I am not proud of this - I find that the only way something gets done with those folks is to yell at them until they sound like they're crying. They're that bad.

The second time, I was so angry at not being able to get anything done, that I just started screaming the moment the poor lady answered my call. I was belligerent. I was gravelly. I was cursing every chance I could.

"I'm... I... I'm sorry about that... sir."

She skipped the script and elevated my month-old problem to a higher-up. The next day, our Internet service somewhat improved. It goes off for five minutes, comes on for hour hours, and goes back off for five minutes. It's better than nothing.

But then it got worse. A storm came along and suddenly there's no Internet throughout the day. And no telephone, too. By then I was staying at the flat, so I've been spared the mental anguish of having to deal with being disconnected at a critical time for work. I also kind of understood that, well, this began all over again when typhoon Tisoy battered Manila, so things are supposed to go down. But a month after the storm, nothing. You're essentially paying for nothing. Add to that how they haven't really fixed anything for weeks, and how you're paying PHP 1,800 for 15mbps of Internet - and how you're only really getting 3mbps - and, well, you get where I'm going with this.

The third time, I couldn't really be that belligerent. I was at the flat, and I'm just grasping with the concept that I'm being heard in the corridor, at the very least. (Shalla once heard me laughing while she came home from work.) But I put on a deeper voice and still cursed every chance I could.

"Uh, I'm... I'm sorry about that, sir. Uh..."

She skipped the script and further elevated my two-month-old problem - our household's two-month-old problem - our household's year-long problem, come to think of it - to a "hit list". There should be a response within 24 to 48 hours. There was nothing.

I'm pretty sure customer service representatives are taught to, at the very least, sound like they understand their customers' predicament. There are what I'd call "empathy statements", just to assuage whoever's on the other line, who's likely to be angry, especially if you know you're working for a really shitty company and all you're getting are complaints. But then, empathy is not something you read off a script. The moment you start being repetitive, you lose the power of whatever you're supposed to be doing.

Then again, it's difficult to be empathetic. That sucks, because we all demand empathy - genuine empathy - from other people, so much so that it's becoming a chore, understanding where the other might come from and tampering your passions as a result. Empathy as a weapon against anger? Isn't it more convenient to be, like, really angry, because that's what everybody is doing, right? It's the fault of the oligarchs, the administration, the yellows, the Americans, the idiots who don't pay their taxes and yet vote, never mind that you don't really pay your taxes yourself.

Could it be because we watch too much television, and we're told that empathy is a special, almost supernatural ability possessed by the protagonist of a science fiction show? I'm thinking of Olivia Dunham. She just understands, and she doesn't have to learn it off a script or something. That was a really good show, Fringe.

And as long as we put empathy on a pedestal, turn it into an ultimate ideal, most of us will just choose to be angry. I mean, it's easier, for one. Like finally switching to Globe. But let's see if PLDT will make it difficult for us to actually terminate our account, where the Internet is slow and unusable, and every phone call gets cut two minutes in.

And your responses...

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