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Please, no further help necessary!

Gary Caruso | Friday, February 4, 2011

For fear of sounding cranky like CBS commentator Andy Rooney, I am hesitant to complain about the substandard level of global technological instantaneous communications still wallowing in some quarters of cyberspace. Naturally, like most, I want my e-mail to pop into my box a split second after it was sent from halfway around the world. I remain wild about language command software that allows my PCU to reply back at me like the infamous super computers such as HAL in the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey” or WOPR of “War Games.” I would accept refusals of my requests so long as their methods of communication were either mechanical or monotone. “Would you like to play Global Thermonuclear War?” could be poetry to my ear.

Lately, humans controlling computers frustrate me. These so-called “customer support professionals” hold the entire Internet — not to mention all of my proprietary personal information — at the tip of their keyboards. They should comfort me, solve my problems and electronically pat me on my butt as we hang up the phone. (If I was actually Andy Rooney, at this point I would diverge to ask the question, “Do you think anyone other than me still uses the term ‘hang up’ to describe pressing the end button on a cell phone?”)

But I am not Andy Rooney — at least not yet — and I am upset that I received no electronic butt-pats after I recently initiated two customer service help calls. The first occurred when my six-month complimentary Sirius Radio and data subscription expired. In an attempt to renew online, I could view both programs listed on my account, but could only renew one of them.

Surfing the Sirius site only confused me since new Ford vehicles like my Fusion Hybrid are the first to utilize new technologies other companies do not. I reviewed my data options: Sirius Travel Link, Traffic or Traffic with Travel Link. Yet I read that Travel Link was exclusive to Fords, plus already included traffic data. I ended up adding a data package I thought was the Ford package that lasted just three days at a billed cost to me of 86 cents.

Soon afterwards I knew I failed to renew my data when I clicked for weather information I previously saw during my complimentary period. Rather than weather, a notice including a call button I could conveniently press to remedy my problem shown brightly on my dashboard. Naturally, I pushed the help button.

Immediately, I knew by the sing-songy inflections of the customer service rep that I had connected with a female in India. After explaining my quandary and inability to renew the data package, she replied, “Yes, Gary. I’ll be happy, Gary, to set up and review your music account.”

I countered that I had successfully renewed my music but had no weather information. She continued, “Gary, we have several music options, Gary. And Gary, let me explain your payment options, Gary.”

“I know my options — I chose Sirius Everything over something I believe I cannot buy anyway for my new Ford,” I loudly shot back. I then pleaded, “I want my weather and traffic back. What the hell does my account indicate that I originally had, but cannot renew on line?”

“Gary, let’s see if you have music on channel 104, Gary.”

“I told you I have my music. Can you help me or not?” I barked back.

“Gary, would you be interested in paying for a full year of music, Gary, and receive two months free?” she matter-of-factly asked.

My head was about to explode. If I heard her sing my name one more time, it would have burst. I hung up on her.

Two days later, I attempted an online check-in for a Lufthansa flight using my Expedia booking confirmation code. According to the web site, the airline had no record of me. I attempted to use another check-in option, namely, my United Airlines frequent flyer number submitted when I booked the flight. Again, nothing a mere day before what I thought for months was my scheduled flight. I panicked and called Expedia customer service ringing in — you guessed it — India.

A female voice, which I swear was the same voice from my Sirius Radio call, began in her sing-songy way, “Gary, I’d be happy to confirm your itinerary, Gary. Gary, you are on flight…”

Raising my voice, I interrupted, “I know the flights. I cannot check-in using the booking code the airline gave me or my frequent flyer number I used to book the flight.”

“Gary, I’d be happy to add your frequent flyer number to your itinerary, Gary,” she matter-of-factly replied.

Doesn’t anyone in customer services listen? Oh, for want of a stress-free solution, even if just to hear an inanimate monotone voice tell me, “I’m sorry, Gary, I can’t do that!”

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ‘73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.