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Yes, Computers *Are* Flexible, You Customer Unservice Person!

15 July 2008

The countdown is on: 30 days until we are back in Des Moines. Last week I called our post office branch in IA, to see about our mail service. See, we had changed most of our addresses, but I had learned that after 365 days the PO stops forwarding your mail and instead returns it to sender, with a big fat “NO LONGER AT THIS ADDRESS” sticker on the envelope. But what was going to happen when we changed our address *back* to our original one?

The guy who answered the phone was a living example of Customer Unservice. He wasn’t listening to what I was saying (“No, you can’t extend your 365 days…” — that wasn’t the issue), and he offered no solution to my problem other than saying “You can’t do that.” He said that the postal carrier has nothing to do with it, and wouldn’t be able to put my mail aside (that is not what I was asking), everything was done by computer at the sorting center, so the postal carrier never touched the forwarded mail (again, not what I was saying). When I asked for the number of the downtown sorting center, he wouldn’t give me one — he said they didn’t deal with customer issues down there.

I had not felt that frustrated with service for a long time. Clearly, the system is set up on a schedule, via computer software. Clearly, all we needed was someone to go in and change (or even, delete) the address change info for our street address. It shouldn’t be too hard to do (if it is hard to do, then there is something wrong with the software, and they should use some of the recent stamp price increase to get a better system online). But here was someone who made the computer program seem like an unchangeable monolith.

This weekend, we showed up a bit early at the fast-food establishment where we were picking up the girls after they and their grandmother returned from the last dog show. I don’t normally support this place, but I had a hankering for one of their $1 soft-serve ice-cream sundaes, and the Consort was willing to get their two-for-$1 apple pies. After we make our order, the manager tells us that she only has one apple pie right now, the others won’t be ready for another 10 minutes. We’ll take that one lone apple pie — for 50 cents, we say. The cashier says he can’t do that, the manager says she can’t do that, it’s not on the computer.

We left without buying anything (why support a business that isn’t flexible?). It’s not like we went in and tried to barter for only one apple pie when they had plenty to sell — as a store manager, of course she has the right not to barter for offerings that are not on the menu. But they couldn’t offer us what they usually have on the menu, so I think it was perfectly reasonable for them to be a bit flexible and sell us that one pie before it cooled off and was no longer able to be sold. But, you see, they don’t have a button for “Misc. purchase” on their computerized cash register, so it was “impossible.”

Computers can do many things. They can allow for line changes. They can allow for special price entries. It’s not the computer that can’t do it. It’s the people with no imagination and very little interest in real customer “service” who don’t want to do it. And that just bothers the heck out of me.


Yesterday, the Consort called the same post office branch I called last week. They told him, very pleasantly, that no problem — once we fill out the new change of address form, the computer will override the older “not at this address” information, and we won’t lose any mail.

(So, sexism? Luck of the draw? Or is there something in my tone of voice that makes people not helpful? [I swear I was pleasant on the phone until the guy started in with the stonewalling — I swear it!])

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 July 2008 12:00 pm

    You can do mail holds and changes of address at the USPS website. That might be easiest route!

  2. 15 July 2008 3:28 pm

    Oh, yeah—I much prefer the persona of the USPS online to the real, live bodies at the office branches.

  3. pierre l permalink
    15 July 2008 4:25 pm

    Hello Imperatrix. In the UK, some shops sell small unwrapped sweets by weight, and it is often called “pick ‘n mix”. So the pricing has to flexible (with no bar-code). When he was a student, my son occasionally worked at a petrol station. They had new tills (cash registers) and the bar-code reader wasn’t very reliable. The important and valuable portion, the fuel, was all computerised, so no issue there. But if the customer was buying a small object with a price tag, say 50 pence, and the till didn’t recognise it, the item went down as 50 pence’s worth of “pick ‘n mix”.
    Of course, your fastfood place probably doesn’t sell loose sweets, but some flexibility from the manager might have been expected. Walking away was certainly the right response though.

  4. 15 July 2008 4:53 pm

    They’d rather say that the computer can’t do it than that they don’t know how to.

  5. Cateling permalink
    16 July 2008 12:23 am

    Some companies hire people into some positions for their ability to stick to the script/standard process without variation. This isn’t always a good thing, even when the companies seem to think so.

  6. 16 July 2008 6:05 am

    Computers are not the issue–it’s the competency level of the operators. I deal with that daily…
    And sexism? It’s the “penis theory” in place. If you have one, doors open. If you have access to one, but don’t actually have one, the door swings just slightly.

  7. 16 July 2008 6:06 am

    And BTW: you can do address changes online at

  8. 16 July 2008 4:12 pm

    Luck of the draw Imperatrix you just got a dickhead

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