Written by Jaime O’Neill
We all know by now that big businesses, public utilities, and corporations value our business. There is a recording that always offers us the reassurance when we’re on hold, interminably, entertained by thoughtfully chosen music almost sure to begin grating on our nerves by the time we’ve spent a few hours of waiting for an actual unrecorded human voice to respond to whatever issue it is we have.
Should we live long enough for that voice to speak to us, we usually are somewhat irritated by the wait. But we remind ourselves that this person we’ve finally reached is not responsible for our frustration. This person with the really good manners, the very sweet voice, and the charming accent is even more at the mercy of the execs who devised or chose this system of cost-saving ways of interacting with customers, and it can be hard to believe the notion that our “business matters to them.” If that were truly so, would they treat people as though we like to be kept on hold, like to listen to awful music, and just can’t wait to hear that robotic voice telling us for the umpteenth time that a “service representative will be with you shortly.” The repetition of that reminder can make a caller made enough to boil a bunny.
But we don’t, of course. What we do, in general, is try to keep our cool with the nice person in Manila or the black hole of Calcutta who truly does seem to want to help us, if only we give him or her lots of information, which can be a bit unnerving to do because we never can be entirely sure that such information might not fall into the wrong hands in a country where people’s struggles are even more desperate than those we know here even as we watch the proliferation of homeless camps spreading into places that were once small businesses, now boarded up because small businesses like hardware stores and clothing stores have been squashed like bugs on Amazon and by online shopping in general.
The mega corporate outfits that replaced those small businesses want to maximize profits, of course. That’s the essence of capitalism, right? So they send “customer service” thousands of miles from where the customers are to be handled by people they can pay very, very little, and who are often working at home. Not secure locations.
And they’ve been getting away with this shitty “customer service” for a long time, perhaps because we’re a bunch of sheep, and perhaps because the people who might be expected to look out for us are corrupted by K Streeters in D.C. who pay politicians to mind other business like blocking minimum wage increases or ensuring ever more tax breaks for the wealthy execs who get big bonuses for every dime of overhead they eliminate, every reduction in the work force they create.
The chief beneficiaries of all that money saved by offshoring jobs and eliminating small businesses has been redirected to Jeff Bezos and other vultures capitalists. For his part, Bezos took away the possibilities and the modest profits from hundreds of thousands of small local businesses and mom and pop stores, gutting the once rather human friendly places downtown that are now boarded up or struggling along as “thrift stores.” The reward Bezos got for fucking over Main Street so effectively was more money for himself personally than the gross national product of any number of poor nations in the world combined.
So, ya see, this complaint about shitty customer service isn’t just the wounded cry of privileged people who are better off than the poor people some of us may lose our tempers with after being on hold until our offspring have reached retirement age. It’s not just a white whine. It is at the root of what progressive politics should be about. It is how the corporate muggers rip us off, separate us from one another, dehumanize us and depersonalize our lives in ways that add to the sense of powerlessness most everyone on the planet now feels.
Autocrats, plutocrats, oligarchs: the tyranny feels the same even in what still passes for a place said to be established by, for, and of the people.
If you’re still on hold, someone will be with you shortly, you sap. And, with luck, you’ll be able to understand what he or she is telling you.
Last stage capitalism? Can’t we come up with something better?