I basically don't buy things very often. At least, not difficult things that involve conversations with customer service people in call centres. But then I have just had a Significant Birthday, which brought with it several Significant Presents.
I am not knocking the Significant Presents, they are excellent and amazing and generally not things I would ever have bought for myself, and I feel somewhat overwhelmed at their number and Significance, but a couple of them, the Most Significant, have involved needing to talk to Spotty Herberts. Some of them a long way away and very unlikely to be called Herbert.
Spotty Herbert Encounter #1. My beloved bought me an iPhone. I didn't even know I wanted an iPhone till I got one, but already I don't know how I got by without being able to lie in bed, check my email, watch iPlayer, pop bubbles, update Facebook, renew my library books and call my mother all at the same time. He got me an Orange one (well, it's white, but you know what I mean) because I am already have an Orange contract and he thought that would be straightforward. Which it should be, right?
So I called Orange and asked them to transfer my number from my existing contract to my new contract. 'So,' said spotty Herbert, somewhere in (I'm guessing) Bangalore, 'you want to upgrade your handset to an iPhone?'. No, no, a thousand times no, I said. I already have an iPhone! I just want you to move my number. I don't want this smelly old contract anymore, I want this shiny new one, with free internet for, like, ages.
We weren't getting anywhere, and eventually he transferred me to a 'colleague', somewhere more like Aberdeen. Which was an improvement, except that she (let's call her spotty Sherbert) told me they would have to send me a new SIM card. But I already have one! I said. In fact I have two! Can't you just move the number? Or move the details from one to the other? Or something?
We can't just go changing things willy nilly, she said. We have to send you a new SIM card, and then you have to choose your animal.
I have a bad feeling about this. And about the fact that it takes 30 freaking days to send a new SIM card. This is how they make you give a month's notice on the smelly contract you didn't want in the first place EVEN THOUGH you are already paying over in the shiny corner for another contract. What a load of old shit.
So for the time being I tweet on one phone and text on another. That's convergence for you.
Spotty Herbert Encounter #2. My mother offers me perfect eyesight for my Significant Birthday, on the grounds that she didn't manage to give it to me first time round (though I think we're all clear that blind-as-bat-itis comes from the other side of the gene pool). I have never given the possibility of perfect eyesight much thought, though it's a seriously cool prospect, and I wander into Boots opticians to enquire, where spotty Sherbert looks at me as if I am mad and says 'laser what?'.
Fortunately one of her colleagues steps in and tells me that Boots sold its laser eye surgery business to Optical Express, and tells me where Optical Express is. So I go to Optical Express, where spotty Herbert says I can have an assessment straight away. Oh, I say. Well, I've got contact lenses in, can you give me something to put them in?
He checks with his colleague, who tells me that actually I can't have an assessment until I have three clear contact lens-free days. I look to spotty Herbert to take the rap, and bless him, he does, and explains that it's his first week. I make an appointment for six days later and hope that it won't be the laser-person's first week, or my eyeballs might end up in space.
The next day, I get a call from a number I don't recognise. Twice. I Google the number to find out that it's Optical Express, and that several thousand people who have no interest in laser eye surgery seem to be seriously pissed off about the calls they get from this number every single day. I start getting these calls too. I don't answer them. They don't leave a message.
On Saturday, two days before my assessment, they call again, and I am on a bus, two pints and a Steampunk exhibition up, so I answer.
Why do you want laser eye surgery? says spotty Sherbert in a thick Scottish accent (I think she might be moonlighting for Orange). Well, I say, I've been walking into things since I was 10 and I fancy a change.
'That's fantastic, that's great', she says.
Then she asks if it's ok to ask me some questions about myself to save time on the day. No, I say. I'm on a bus.
The form I fill in before my assessment includes questions about my mental health (I say it's fantastic! it's great!) and family history. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to answer such questions over the phone to someone they cannot see, who would in all likelihood greet an admission of anything from postnatal depression to paranoid schizophrenia with mindless platitudes.
ANYWAY. The man who tested my eyesight and squirted air at my eyeballs, and the other man who assessed my general awareness, suitability, and ability to absorb the information that their 'from £395 per eye' figure is a figure that applies to precisely nobody who might ever be blind enough to want to get someone to stick a laser in their eye, were all perfectly credible, professional and likeable. I was mildly annoyed that they asked me to fill in their customer service feedback survey while still not able to see very well from the strange drops they put in your eyes, but luckily I can more or less touch type. I also guess that their evil marketing people know how to Google, as do many of the people who are considering getting their eyes lasered.
I discussed the proliferation of spotty Herberts, Sherberts, and Dilberts with my dad. These things would be enough to put him off, and they are certainly enough to piss me off. But this is the 21st century, and this is our version of Adam Smith's division of labour. I think if their surgical outcome stats were not excellent, we'd know about it.
I'm thinking RyanAir. I may (and indeed I do) loathe everything about how they do business, but they're not going to hire shit pilots are they? That would be a bad business decision. I will never fly RyanAir again, but that was nothing to do with the flying bit and everything to do with the customer service bit.
Additionally, I only plan to get my eyes lasered once, and the important part of the experience is the bit where someone zaps me in a vulnerable place. And if I'm not happy just before that point, I'll be saying 'cool your lasers, I'm offski'. I once had to have my cervix lasered -- which was not (technically) an elective process, and I still remember the deal I had to make with the devil so I wouldn't shoot off the table and run like the wind. My cervix has been fine for 15 years now, so I like to think I'd know if I felt spotty S/Herbertism had penetrated too far.
Having said all that, I'm not sure I like the post-modern world much. The modern one was always a bit blurry, but while blurry can hide a multitude of sins, for sure, it can also create space to trust that people will do the right thing in the right way. To be continued.joella