PHRAGMENTS FROM PHYLLIS: A new appreciation for ‘real people’ | Opinion

Eufemia Didonato

Last week I had my first experience in more than a year up-close-and-personal with a customer service person, and I must say it was a great experience.

As with most people in 2021, we have grown to depend on our phones for everything. Need to take a picture? Despite my training and my wonderful “real” camera, I mostly use my phone. Want to look back at a photo of a grandchild when he/she was born? I pull out my phone – now a photo album. Need to look up who was vice president under Taft? I turn to Google. Time to address those Christmas cards? Addresses are in my phone. Want to call my best friend? I pull up “Susan” in my contacts. (The bad news about that is I no longer have thousands of numbers in my head. I know I can just type that person’s name in my phone, and it will do the work.) Interested in what’s going on in the world? I have e-editions of several news sources at my fingertips. And the biggest one for me is the calendar. I often say to my doctor or my dentist or hairdresser, nail tech, etc., as they try to hand me an appointment card, “No need. If it isn’t in my phone it isn’t going to happen.”

So when my phone began randomly to turn itself off and back on for no reason, I began to panic a little. At the same time my husband, who insists he has little use for his phone, complained that his current phone would only charge with one cord (out of maybe 10 in our house) and then only if “I hold my mouth right,” as they say.

After one of my kids had, not long ago, successfully ordered a phone online, I decided I could do the same. It is 2021, after all, and most companies have adapted nicely to no-contact business transactions. My phone provider has an effective “chat” line to help, so I placed an order for both our phones that way.

What I hadn’t bargained for was my bank. For the first time since I graduated from college – longer ago than I care to admit – I encountered the attitude of “in loco parentis.” For those who didn’t take Latin or just can’t figure it out, that’s “in place of the parent.” When I went to college, one of the attractions for parents was that my college promised to act just like my parents in some regards. But here I was in 2021 with a bank questioning my purchase. I got a text asking if the purchaser was really me. I duly responded “yes,” and thought nothing more about it. A week later, I got the same text from my bank, asking if I had really, really made this purchase. I duly responded “yes” – again. And immediately I got a “fraud alert,” asking me to call a certain number. Ok, I did that, but when the “person” (I’m thinking maybe really a computer) began asking questions, I became concerned. Nowhere in the text information or online did they say my bank’s name. So I hung up and decided to go into my bank (for the first time in more than a year). I did that and the service rep unblocked my credit card and said I should be good to go. But I was a bit gun-shy.

I decided rather than paying for the phones outright and risking another parental intervention, I could add them to my monthly plan, at least temporarily. And I decided just to be sure, I’d order the phones one at a time. Tom’s was the more urgent need, so I started there. The phone came. We followed all the instructions, and with a few missteps had all his data transferred to the new phone. But it wasn’t easy.

When I was ready to replace my phone, I happened to have an errand near the my provider’s store on Edgefield Road, so I thought, “What the heck. I’ll just go in and see if there’s a chance they have what I want in stock.” The last two or three times I’ve replaced my phone, I had to order what I wanted, and then I was responsible for all that goes into transferring your “life” from one device to the next, so I wasn’t optimistic.

It was, as I said, the first time I’ve ventured into such a transaction with a human being in more than a year. And it felt so good.

The person who helped me did it all. Apparently my service provider has changed its tune regarding what service means. Instead of selling me a phone and telling me to follow the online instructions to make the needed data transfer, he handled everything. First, he looked up what promotions might be available. (Nothing online suggested I might be able to get a better deal on a phone.) The result was I got the latest and greatest for less than the cost of Tom’s new phone, which is a streamlined version of the far-more-expensive versions.

He then asked how many photos on my phone. When I reported more than 18,000, the service rep said, “I believe you win the prize for the most photos I have ever encountered on a phone. You’re going to need more memory.”

Finally, he looked at my plan (which, despite my children being grown, still includes six phones and numerous other devices), and he managed to knock off a decent amount from my monthly bill.

After two hours (largely due to the time it took for all my pictures to move from the old phone to the new), I left the store a very happy camper.

All this is to say that since March 2020 we have become more self-reliant, more apt to “do it ourselves,” rather than risking human contact. But there is definitely something to be said for giving expert people a shot at helping us in those situations.

In the future, maybe it’s time to give people a chance again. I’m certainly glad I did.

(If you’d like the name of the fellow who so ably assisted me, just ask. My email is [email protected])

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