Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us

By EMILY YELLIN

In 1910, when the need for an operator meant that every phone call involved an encounter with customer service, Herbert Casson wrote, “No matter how many millions of dollars are spent on cables and switchboards, the quality of telephone service depends upon the girl at the exchange end of the wire.” If corporations had only listened to Casson for the last hundred years, there wouldn’t be so many problems for Emily Yellin to take on in this book, in which she valiantly sets out to make some sense of the world we consumers helplessly navigate. She ends up indicting the corporate strategy of skimping on consumer relations in the quest for profit. And she will convince you, in the unlikely event that you haven’t already been convinced by a toll-free call that left you mentally wringing someone’s neck. (Hey Verizon, can you hear me now?) The principal problem is that customer service reps generally don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, but Yellin patiently investigates where the blame actually lies and shows how thinly and widely it is spread. You might find your sympathies coming to rest on unexpected people, like the one on the other end of your next call. Unfortunately, Yellin’s analysis rarely goes deeper than repeating that companies ought to view customer service more as a chance to score points than as a sinkhole for cash. But she unearths some nice factual nuggets and gathers insight from sources far and wide, like the actress behind the voice of “Amtrak Julie” and the young guy in Buenos Aires who gave her a refund when Office Depot bungled her order.

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