16 December 2010 0 Comments

‘Go **** yourself,” and plotting a novel

Raymond Chandler once described an activity (not important what) as being “as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.” I have happened upon a dark corporate art still more wasteful and, being a writer, I see how it’s related to the plotting of a novel.

I’ve had a couple of mild run-ins with corporate complaints departments of late – customer service departments as they are known. The service, of course, is the kind of servicing offered by a stallion to a mare.

I’ll sum up what’s been going on, and then I’ll tell you why the “customer service” department is the anti-creative, anti-crime novel acme of our society. I’ll also tell you why I bet Dick Cheney doesn’t like crime novels.

But wait, first, my complaints. I rented a car with Hertz on a recent trip to the UK. I was caught on a speed camera doing 36 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone, and elsewhere doing 45 mph in a 40 mph zone. So I have to pay a fine. Well, I don’t like drivers who speed, so I’ll pay the fine.

Yet Hertz charged me 30 pounds plus tax to let me know that I was liable for these fines. I called to tell them I thought this was excessive and was given a very rude brush-off by a nasty Irish woman. I forgave her, because while I owe 60 pounds plus tax for driving too fast, she personally owes a few billion Euros just for being Irish.

I then wrote to Hertz and received a reply from Lisa Walsh of “Customer Services” in which she said the 30 pounds was to cover Hertz’s expenses. “Our financial controller has set the cost at 30 pounds per fine.” Oh, well, if your financial controller says it’s reasonable, what do I know? Lisa then added: “We appreciate your business and look forward to the opportunity to serve your future rental needs.”

I’m not a lawyer (I’ve never solicited), but I know when someone has said a very lawyerly “Go **** yourself” to me.

I responded that my concern hadn’t been addressed. Namely, that 30 pounds seemed a lot of money for Hertz charge just for passing on a fine to me. The nasty Irish lady had told me Hertz takes a week’s work to “check whether it’s from a real police force or not.” Does that mean that a week’s work at Hertz earns you 30 pounds? Or that they’re suspicious of the Glamorgan County Constabulary? A shifty bunch, those Welsh coppers.

Jonathan Cooley, of Hertz Customer Services, got back to me. He upped the ante, telling me “Go **** yourself, you stupid, illiterate ****.” Here’s what he said: “The administration fee was clearly outlined which was clearly accepted by you when you made the booking.”

Nice grammar, Jonathan. Clearly, I should’ve read the small print on my rental contract, but I was only on vacation for 10 days, so I figured I’d best not spend half of the trip in the Hertz office at Heathrow catching up on my reading. He also pretended that I had contested the fine, when actually it was Hertz’s surcharge I opposed.

I had a similar run-in with Disneyland Paris. Yes, can you believe Mickey’s smile factory isn’t all good times? They sold me some extra tickets to a show which turned out to be after my son’s bedtime. I bought them over the phone and was told the event was for well before my son’s bedtime.

When it turned out, I had been misinformed, I wrote to Disneyland “Guest Communications” requesting a refund. Given that two days and nights at Disneyland Paris cost enough to pay off the national debt of several Irish people, I assumed that 90 Euros wouldn’t be something they’d cling to. Disneyland’s Kathryn Adamson informed me, however, that “As per our Booking Terms and Conditions, no refund will be given for any unused part of any booking. I regret therefore that I am unable to respond favourably to your request and hope that you can appreciate our position in this matter.”

Thanks for the italics, Kathryn.

The method of such complaints departments is to follow the line of that great (massively corrupt and immoral) capitalist Dick Cheney who told a complaining Democrat on the floor of the Senate to “go **** yourself.” Once someone takes that approach there isn’t much you can say. Even if they dress it up in legalese and add a wish that you’ll use their companies services again in the future. So even though Cheney did his best to be the bad guy in a murder mystery (shooting a retired lawyer in the face and the bad guy in an international thriller (the war in Iraq and the WMD lies), I don’t think he’s interested in crime fiction. Only crime itself, the legal kind.

To sum up: when you go to a complaints department, they’re not interested in plot. They’re not interested in developing a relationship or understanding a character. Their job is to brush you off. They’re the anti-novelists.

In the case of Hertz, that means saying that 60 pounds plus tax is worth more than all my future potential custom. In the case of Disneyland Paris, 90 Euros is worth more than a future visit I might’ve made. Whereas novelists like me write blogs for nothing, because we want you to come back.

My recent experiences, of course, are a lot less nasty than the American Express “customer relations representative” who told me some years ago I was “a worthless, shocking disgrace” because my corporate card hadn’t been paid in a few months. Well, he didn’t know the half of it…

Still, I think the anti-novelistic element of their thinking may be part of the lack of effective communication between me and these complaints types. Or the problem could just be that they won’t give me my ****ing money back.

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