Am I paranoid to wonder whether AT&T's "customer-service" representative was punishing Stanley Fish for correcting her grammar? Or, more precisely, for ranting?
He kind of asked for it. I mean, she was instructed to say "With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?" He complained. No doubt she has also been instructed to say "I'm sorry you feel that way" in response to any complaint she can't resolve. So when that remark elicited another complaint from Fish, there wasn't much she could do to get him off the phone (and surely she has also been instructed to get callers off the phone ASAP) except to fob him off on someone else. So she invented a problem with his Social Security number and shipped him off to limbo.
Real human communication has been driven far underground in our dealings with corporate representatives. Paradoxically, corporate goals of courtesy and efficiency are what drove it there. Of course, the result is neither courteous nor efficient -- it's just mechanized. The only partial solution I know is to stay really, really nice, even when I'm really, really annoyed. Does anyone else have another strategy that's more satisfying?
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