I recently asked readers to share their stories of coming up against this particular form of customer disservice.
For example, when Chris of Huntingtown, Md., couldn’t find a phone number for an actual human being at Comcast, she used the online virtual assistant to indicate that her husband had died.
Chris typed: “Report death of primary account holder” into the chat box.
The virtual assistant’s response: “I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that. The primary account holder must do that.”
Said Chris: “I figured we were off to a rocky start.”
John is a reader in Derwood, Md. When his parents, James and Rosemary, got older, they moved in with his sister and her husband in Pennsylvania. Eventually, they died, as we all must. Years later, John’s brother-in-law got a call from a marketer at Sears. The exchange went like this:
“Could I speak with James?” the telemarketer asked.
“He died several years ago.”
“Is there a good time for me to call back then?”
David had a similar conversation when he called to cancel his late father’s satellite TV account.
“Was there a problem with the quality of service?” the representative asked.
“Not that I know of, but that’s irrelevant,” David said.
“Is a move involved in this decision?”
“I guess so,” David said. “He has moved from the apartment to a drawer at the medical examiner’s and when a cause of death has been determined he will move on to the crematorium. But that will be a brief visit, and he won’t be watching TV.”
David, who lives in Arlington, Va., declined the offer of a discount and was eventually able to cancel the account.
When Maryanne of Reston, Va., was the executor of her late uncle’s estate, she wrote to all his accounts to say he had died and no longer needed service. The reply from the water company was priceless.
“They thanked me for letting them know, and said they hoped they would be able to serve him in the future in his new location,” Maryanne said. “I suggested they needed to review their form letters!”
Sandy of Alexandria, Va., lost her father 13 years ago. Canceling his accounts went smoothly, until she called one of his credit card companies.
“I informed the person at this card company of my father’s passing and my desire to close his account,” she wrote. “The person on the other end of the phone said, ‘If you close his account, it will ding his credit rating.’ ”
Sandy said she didn’t think that would make much of a difference.
When the representative said the account holder needed to sign the paperwork closing the account, Sandy walked over to a shredder and turned it on. “That was the sound of my father’s credit card going through the shredder,” she said. “I believe we have now closed my Dad’s account. Thank you for your help.”
Sandy doesn’t remember receiving any more correspondence from that company.
Nancy’s husband died in April. Last week, an email came for him from a headhunting group suggesting he apply for a job as a bounty hunter. Nancy didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“He would have been the worst candidate for such a job,” wrote Nancy, who lives in D.C. “He was a retired academic in his 80s.”
While I would love to see a TV show about a bounty-hunting octogenarian professor, it appears the email was actually a phishing attempt that directed recipients to enter their personal information on a web page.
I’m happy to report that Katherine’s husband is still alive. But is she? For a decade, Katherine has made a monthly donation to Doctors Without Borders, but recently the charity started addressing all its correspondence to her husband.
When she called to ask why, the representative said their records indicated she was dead.
Wrote Katherine, who lives in Frederick, Md.: “What I will never forget was the very respectful, tender, kindly tone of voice she used to inform me of my untimely demise some time in 2016. It was as if on some level, she was concerned that I was just the last to know.”
Wednesday: More tales from beyond the grave.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.