For no sane reason, CustFrust Food Products Inc., the leader in prepared custard products, prides itself in its customer service. In the past, the mainstays of its business were its Jar/o/Custard™, Tin/o/Custard™, Tub/o/Custard™, Cup/o/Custard™ and Barrel/o/Custard™ products. (The company introduced the latter for particularly large families.) However, it recently took the culinary world by storm with its innovative Frozen/Custard/on/a/Stick™.
(CustFust’s original marketing people thought slashes were cool and made for boffo brand boosters. At the request of loved ones, esteemed psychiatrists committed those marketing people to intensive care mental health facilities a few years ago. None have been released yet. But the company feels that dropping the slashes from its product names after all these years would damage its branding. Clearly, the company still has employees in dire need of professional help.)
CustFrust was one of the first to break the normal food sales mold of days gone by. Right from its founding in 2003, CustFrust sold only directly to end-consumers. At first, it took orders using web browser-based order forms and the telephone. A few years ago, the company added iOS and Android smartphone apps to its sales channels.
Considering that the company sells millions of custard items every month, it’s not surprising that some customers experience problems with their orders. Dealing with those customers and their problems is the job of the customer service department.
Customer Service Job Interview
Deep within the department’s cubicle warren sits a windowless meeting room. No pictures adorn its stark white walls. A nondescript table constructed of an unknown and unattractive faux-wood fills much of the space. The only two chairs present, both of which are unremarkable, straight-backed and uncomfortable, sit such that their occupants will face each other across the table.
At the moment, one chair is empty. On the other rests Daniel Dibek, manager of the customer service department. Dibek is famed for his permanent scowl and his abiding love for absolutely nothing whatsoever.
As is his daily on-the-job custom, Dibek has been working on Sudoku puzzles for the past two hours. Finally finished, he bellows to his assistant, Karen Klafte, who sits in a nearby cubicle doing her best to be invisible to mortals. “Karen, fetch my next appointment! … Um, please,” barks Dibek.
Klafte winds her way through the cubicle labyrinth, stopping on the way to grab and drink an extra-large mug of coffee, paint her fingernails, and brush her hair. Upon arriving in the reception area 45 minutes later, Klafte finds ten people waiting impatiently.
“Mary Mayse,” calls out Klafte. A somberly dressed woman of no discernible age rises and follows Klafte back to the conference room. As Klafte leaves the room, shutting the door behind her, Mayse sits down across from Dibek.
Your Interview is Important to Us
“I’m sorry for keeping you waiting for, what was it, two or three hours?” begins Dibek. “I’m glad you stayed because your interview is important to us. Because you stuck it out, I maintained your appointment in priority sequence. And I saw you as soon as possible.”
Without any further formalities, Dibek starts to interview Mayse for an open customer service position. “Do you have any prior experience in customer service,” he asks.
“Well, to be honest, not as such,” responds Mayse. “At least, not what you would call actually serving customers. My last job was in a high-security women’s prison. Although, it wasn’t so much a job as serving time. I did that for four years.
“Before the prison, I spent three years as a vicious debt collector. It was the tactics I used on that job that landed me in jail. What could I do if people didn’t want to pay up? Sometimes you’ve got to use a little maiming force. You know what I mean?
“And prior to that I worked for four years at a bank, where I was responsible for breaking the bad news to people who had been denied loans. Only a dozen or so of them subsequently committed suicide. Not bad for four years on the job, I’d say.”
“OK,” says Dibek. “Let’s put that down as relevant, but not related experience. Why do you want to work in customer service?”
Helping People. Whatever.
“Because I like to help people,” answers Mayse in a dry, monotone voice.
“Whoa! Let me stop you right there,” utters Dibek in a tone that made it seem almost as if he was spirited, although no one would ever accuse him of that. “I know you said that only because you think it’s the right answer. But that’s not what we do here. We adhere strictly to a two-phase approach to dealing with all customer calls.
“First, we do our best to frustrate complaining customers into giving up and leaving us alone. No caller ever gets through to a customer service rep without first punching a sequence of at least ten menu options on their telephone’s touch pad.
“Some people don’t like to or can’t press the numbers. We’re not totally heartless. So, we also let callers speak their request in plain English. If they correctly guess the few randomly chosen words that our system understands, we make the inappropriate connection.
“All callers who, against all odds, do manage to get through sit on hold for a minimum of 37 minutes. A random number generator determines how much longer than 37 minutes each will have to wait. During that time, they listen to the most insipid elevator music imaginable, punctuated every 30 seconds by the standard ‘your call is important to us’ claptrap.
“If that doesn’t get rid of the bastards, um, I mean customers, we escalate to phase two. This is where you’ll come in if you get the job. All of our customer service representatives are thoroughly trained in techniques that infallibly convince the caller of the indisputable fact that, whatever the problem may be, it is definitely the customer’s fault. Sometimes it takes outright belligerence on our part to convince the caller, but we eventually get there. Do you think you can handle that?”
Welcome to Customer Service
Mayse is, understandably, taken aback and flustered. She hems and haws for a full 27 minutes, throwing in a number of ums and ahs for good measure. Whenever Dibek tries to take back the conversation Mayse holds up her left hand, palm forward, indicating that she needs to compose herself and is not yet ready to yield the floor.
Finally, Mayse blurts out, “You call yourself a damned customer service manager? There isn’t one iota of service buried anywhere in your lousy, offensive approach! Fuck you! Fuck you and your whole damned company.”
“Great! Brilliant!” cries Dibek, with an unaccustomed tear of adoration in his eye. “You understand. So few people do. You’ve got the job. Can you start today?” And another CustFrust customer service representative is born.
This is a work of fiction. None of the characters are real. If any real-life people bear the above names, sorry. You can honestly assure everyone that you’re not them.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no company named CustFrust anywhere in the world. I made the name up. It’s short for “customer frustration.” I devised it as a more appropriate name for what some companies refer to as “customer service.” If there is indeed a company named CustFrust, I sincerely and deeply apologize to it.
To those companies that provide great customer service—yes, there are some—sorry. This wasn’t directed at you. I can’t thank you enough for the exceptional service you provide. A business transaction is an exchange of value. It’s not charity. You give me something I value. I give you money in exchange. As long as that thing you gave me delivers the value you promised, I don’t have any reason to expect more from you. So, when you go above and beyond to provide superb service I appreciate it more than words can describe. Thanks. Thank you very much.
To the other companies, the ones that provide poor or, worse, atrocious customer service, screw you.