Friday, April 08, 2005

That Is All That Can Be Told

It began as a simple inquiry of the most mundane sort: the consumer inquiry. As much as I rail and chafe at the label "consumer" which seems to reduce one to a greedy little mouth, I must admit that I am one. Who isn't ? I obtain goods and services in exchange for legal tender. And, sometimes, as with anything, there are problems.

Like with the lens. The lens that began, a month after I received it as a Christmas gift from DK, to project prisms into the camera's viewfinder. The lens that, one January day on the snowy river path, developed a tinny little rattle and disgorged a cute little T-shaped rod into my hand when I shook it.

So I sent it back to the Camera Store. A month later, still lensless, I called and was told they hadn't yet gotten a shipment of replacements, but probably would in a few weeks. Two months later I called again. No shipment yet. They'd inquired, but there was no estimated time of arrival for said lenses from The Company.

So I went to The Company website. It was a slick site with a promising "customer service" page, and a spiffy little e-thingy called a "Personal eBox" just for customer (aka consumer) inquiries. So I entered the requisite personal data and then composed a pithy synopsis of my consumer issue. The lens. The prisms. The rattle. The slender rod. The Camera Store's inability to get even an estimate on when a shipment of new lenses would arrive.

"Is there anything that can be done ?" I typed. Then hit send.

A few hours later, alerted by a prompt email from The Company, I returned to my Personal eBox to read the reply to my question. Is there anything that can be done ?.

There I found a reply from "Melissa K." (not her real pseudonym), The Company's "Customer Support" representative. (Edited slightly for maximum Orwellian effect)

no. ... That is all that can be told. They know what they are talking about. ... there is nothing more that can be done. I'm sure they will notify them when a shippment (sic) comes in...

Best regards,
Melissa K.
... Customer Support

There it was. I was stunned. The hard-hitting truth, love-that-can-get-no-tougher direct from "Customer Support." Unleavened by any pretense of being "supportive" or of offering "service." Without even the slightest, mollifying, insincere acknowledgment of consumer pain ! As they say on the internet, young Melissa was basically telling me to FOAD. "WTF ?" I asked myself.

Her monosyllabic ukase tolled through my mind: That Is All That Can Be Told. There it was. The ubiquitous post-modern passive voice, redolent of the death of the author, the agent, the responsible party, the social contract, of God even. We are all at the whimsical mercy of impersonal, destructive forces. Of blind, wriggling, hungry chance. All will not be necessarily be well.

After a day or so of wandering in the dissed-consumer wilderness, I pulled myself together and composed a response:

Your reply, forgive me for being blunt, boggled my mind. Nothing can be done ? "That is all that can be told ?" No inquiries on my behalf can be made ? ... Your company sold me a DEFECTIVE lens. Now I must remain in limbo. For months. No one in (The Company) knows when (The Camera Store) will receive a shipment of these lenses. No one is willing and/or able to investigate this. This is information that simply cannot be determined. This does not seem like customer service to me. Or even Customer Support.

After editing out paragraphs of brilliant, eloquent and withering sarcasm, I hit send.

It had happened. My metamorphosis was complete. I was not only a consumer. I was an outraged consumer. I felt unclean. Guilty. Nay, monstrous. I wanted to hit "unsend." There, alas, was no "unsend." Oh well. I pictured Melissa opening my Personal eBox and reading my reply. Her gumsmacking increases in frequency and intensity. She emits a veritable volley of loud TSKs of disdain. Hisses of rage spout from between her over-rouged lips.

"WHATEVAH !" she screams, jabbing so hard at "delete" that her two-inch rhinestone-and-magenta acrylic fingernail splits right down the middle.

That night I found a long reply on my answering machine. From "Bob." From The Company. A cheerful,placating, helpful voice. Asking for more information. Laying out the options. Help was on the way. Succor. Relief. Redress of grievances. The consumer, me, was back in my rightful place. King. Queen. Emperor. God. Whatever. My breast was swelling with vindicated outrage. All industry was groveling at my feet.

While, probably, sneering behind my back.

Now I really felt unclean.

I was grateful, I suppose. I'd get my lens back. Maybe.

But I was longing, quite frankly, for Melissa's undisguised and righteous contempt of the whole frigging deal.

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