“Please stay on the line. There is something I can do for you at the YOW.
“I will speak with my manager. Please stay on the line. I am going to put you on hold.” Queue the selection of the obligatory and familiar, yet unrecognizable jazz music that is meant to soothe your stress. “I’m sorry, we can do nothing for you.” It’s an answer I know to expect and I was prepared for the inevitable disappointment. It’s the default that anyone who has ever had to call a customer service inquiry line knows. Nobody looks forward to calling a customer service line, where you have to hear, usually an androgynous sounding voice repeating options on what you want from 1–5 (push the number key if you want us to repeat these options. I’m sorry that was not a valid option), when really all you want is to talk to an actual live person on the other end.
Which brings me to the actual live person on the other end. I feel for those call centre customer service agents. I really do. I would be hard-pressed to imagine a more undignified, soul-crushing grind than being the first line of defence against an unhappy public that fall on the spectrum on a phrase customer service people have come to both love and hate: “The customer is always right.” It would not be a bad gig if those poor suckers on the other end of the line actually had the power to solve problems. Alas, they often are not empowered with the ability to solve customer problems and so they must sit there like an emotional punching bag, where they were probably earlier absorbing all sorts of insults and threats for you to get fired until the customer upon realizing their defeat, gives up when they run out of ways to tell the call centre customer service agent a useless asshole. The punching bags: I feel for them.
The whole exchange is designed to be adversarial and I knew this long before I picked up the phone to make the call. The many other times I have had to do this, I am usually doing this at the comfort of my own home where when I experience the defeat of not getting my problem resolved, I can at least take comfort in eating some leftovers, letting all sorts of music colour the soundscape to the tune of my sour mood and then napping. This time, I will not have that back-up plan. I was at an airport (the YOW to be precise) where there would be no comfort. Just composed terror. I had just missed my 915 AM flight after all, despite arriving an hour early before the close of check-in. I had to make the hard case to the poor sucker on the other end to transfer my flight over to the next flight over at 1245 PM.
There was a faint hope when I made the call but as minutes dragged on from 5 minutes to 40 minutes, I came to terms and perhaps made peace when the people on the other end said with a subtle touch of pity, “I will speak with my manager. Please stay on the line. I am going to put you on hold.” Queue the selection of the obligatory and familiar, yet unrecognizable jazz music that is meant to soothe your stress. “I’m sorry, we can do nothing for you. Unless you want to pay $1100 for th enext flight.”
That offer was about as good as nothing. Not even a refund for my missed flight. Self-restraint became a chore at this point and I was ready to call it in, to give up a vacation. I hung up and at that moment, there until a friendly voice greeted me with a smile. “I overheard your conversation. There is something I can do for you.” I did not want the heartbreak and the disappointment of false hope, however faint it was. I had just gone through that when I hung up and conceded defeat.
“There is something I can do for you.” With one phone call, she gave me a new boarding pass for the next flight, all with a smile. She apologized for the confusion and said she understood how I would have been lost. At this point, it never even occured to me that I was lost but I was. It was extraordinary in its ordinariness, as if this happened enough. Apparently, it did.
I felt a lot of gratitude for this woman that I was compelled to write a handwritten note thanking her. She just said, thank you but it is no big deal. “I am just doing my job. I don’t know why they make it sound like a big deal when you call them.” Nothing truer could have been said at that moment. It was no big deal and like that, I found myself through the gates, waiting for my next flight. That was all there was to it. Customer service looks to be a lot more satisfying when you are empowered to actually help customers. It was magical in just how strikingly normal it felt. Yes there is something you can do for me and thank you for doing it.