Customer Service Woes

Is it only me, or are others subjected to torture when trying to reach the appointments person of a medical practitioner or the customer service department of a business or other organization?

After listening to a recording with a litany of "choices," you are asked to pick one of as many as 10 options from the "menu," which are spoken so fast you're still considering the first one as the third is being recited.

Then when you press the one you think is closest to solving your problem, you learn it isn't and are forced to press the number that lets you "start all over" until eventually you are cut off completely. Then you either place the call anew or just give up in frustration, which I think is the desired response from many of these organizations.

But even when you get a real human being to answer the phone, more often than not that person is not any better than the recorded menu.

Today I needed to make two medical appointments. When I called the first doctor's office, the receptionist indicated she was not qualified to make appointments, just to answer the phone. When I said I wanted to make an appointment, before she even asked my name, she asked, "What kind of insurance do you have?" When I told her it was Medicare and another very substantial secondary insurer, she almost cut me off in mid-sentence to say, "Oh, I don't think we take any more Medicare patients."

When I responded that I also had this secondary insurance, she stumbled over that and told me she would have to "ask somebody else." She finally got back on the phone to say: "That's okay; we do accept that insurance." Then I got an appointment for January.

Aside from this totally unprofessional and crude treatment, when I hung up I was left wondering what poor uninsured folks or those on Medicare who do not have a secondary insurer go through.

My second call was no better. The person answering the phone was obviously not very familiar with the English language. When she asked my name, I not only clearly pronounced it but gave her my middle initial and last name as well, then spelled it for her, after which she asked me to repeat it, which I did. After some small delay, surprisingly I got an appointment for the very next afternoon and hung up feeling not too bad overall about the experience. That is, until the phone rang about two hours later, and the conversation went like this:

"Grunald please" (or something even worse-sounding than that), Grunald being her interpretation of my pronunciation of my first name, Gerald. (Note that she did not ask for "Mr. Merna." Nobody calls senior citizens Mr. or Mrs. any more; it's usually "you guys" or your first name.)

I immediately recognized her voice, and when I asked if she meant "Gerald," she said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I don't know how to pronounce that name." I said, "That's okay, what can I do for you?" She replied, "I'm calling to remind you that you have an appointment with Dr. . . . tomorrow." When I told her I had just made that appointment with her two or three hours ago, she was flabbergasted and said something like, "Oh, I forgot that."

With all the problems that abound today, these types of experiences absolutely pale in comparison, but nonetheless this is only the tip of the iceberg of what is happening between service providers and customers and patients today.

This occurs with such regularity that it is mind-boggling and makes one wonder what kind of screening and training, if any, medical practitioners and business owners provide their employees, especially to their "first line of defense," the people they depend on to give a good impression of their practice or business. After all, the people who answer their telephones are the first individuals we "meet," and it is often from that experience that we make our decisions whether we want to do business with them, unless we have no other choice.

Do they care whether those people make at least a decent representation of their businesses? Do they realize, or care, that they may be losing customers with this kind of treatment? It doesn't appear that they do, at least to me.

Have to go -- I need to call another business about a computer problem . . .

Gerald F. Merna

Potomac Falls