May I help you, sucker? A nation of bad customer service

The lost art of customer service.

We are either about to undertake, or have just engaged in, massive swappage of gadgets. And that's good. We are stimulating the economy; we are providing an indicator to industry of emerging trends; we are telling those in our circle that we love them a digital camera's worth, or maybe even a video game console's worth. We have stuffed stockings with flash drives; we have placed Wiis under the tree; we have thickened envelopes with big-box gift cards.

Which means that most of us are in for a lot of migraines, frustration and killing-spree fantasies over the next couple of months.

It is often said that America has transitioned from an economy based on production to one based on service. The very idea should terrify you, because, the occasional, exceptional man or woman aside, Americans absolutely suck at customer service. Generally speaking, we are a nation of poorly educated sociopaths who take jobs we hate hawking shit about which we know next to nothing, and can't be bothered to learn. And the concept of following up the sale of said shit with knowledgeable, courteous support is, to us, ludicrous; that's what the Indian subcontinent is for, derf.

And we take it. We accept it as a given. I am currently embroiled in a back-and-forth with a computer company — let's call them Shmell — over getting my laptop fixed. The laptop that I bought online. The one they couldn't find in stock after I'd paid for it, and refunded my money without notifying me before discovering that they did, in fact, have it in stock. The one that arrived broken.

I'd heard all the stories about Shmell's poor customer-service track record, but they had a product I wanted. Poorly educated sociopath that I am, I probably subconsciously figured that I'd be the guy who got the motivated, caring, on-the-ball salesman (not to mention the one item put together by an angel sent from heaven for the sole purpose of building consumer electronics with omniscience and love), so I'd never have to deal with a guy whose sum and total wisdom regarding tech support is encased in a three-ring binder, the first page of which says "TURN COMPUTER OFF AND UNPLUG FOR 30 SECONDS."

And when I go to Shmest Shmuy to get a post-Christmas deal on a new hi-def TV, chances are, nobody on the floor will be able to tell me the significance of hertz specifications. I'll behave rudely because I know more about the product than the person selling it, and the salesperson will have one more reason not to give a damn about being competent.

There are exceptions to this vicious cycle, of course, and those people who know what they're selling and servicing inside and out are the real-world equivalent of the elves I wish would come on Christmas Eve to stuff my stocking with Valium and drink tickets. But they're just about as rare as the Valium Elves, in whom I'll need to believe until all of us — from the corporations who cut corners when it comes to hiring and training employees compatible with service positions, to the employees who think any paid gig is beneath their full attention, to the consumers that don't drag incompetent employees outside and toss them in dumpsters, or at least express their frustration by spending their money elsewhere — quit blowing it.

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