A while back, I ordered something from a well-known online stationery firm. It didn’t arrive. So, of course, I went online to ask why. They had run out of stock, they told me, but they had reordered. So I asked them when it would arrive. ‘In a few days,’ typed Customer Service Representative Julie.
A month later, still nothing had appeared. So I asked them again and I got this email answer from Customer Service Representative Harriet:
‘I am very sorry for the miss communication and also the miss leading information on the website, the due date does state today so it usually takes a day or so to get the stock into the warehouse and shipped out to yourself.’
So I continued to live in hope.
But while miss communication and miss leading information were both quite funny, conjuring a thrilled pair of winners of that stationer’s coveted Most Successful Female Customer Service Representative titles (prize: as many pink Post-Its as you can carry home with you), I took exception to ‘shipped out to yourself.’
This sounded like a grandiloquent, David Brent-ish expansion of a perfectly good short word: you.
This sounded like a grandiloquent, David Brent-ish expansion of a perfectly good short word: you. I wanted to warn Harriet against its use by suggesting a robust example of how ‘yourself’ could, in this sort of situation, be used correctly as a reflexive pronoun rather than incorrectly as the object of a preposition, viz. ‘I’ve told you, it’s not in stock, so why don’t you go and fuck yourself, you arse, and stop bothering me?’
Then I started to wonder: was all this yourself-abuse created by an alienating, call-centre type of gulf between customer service and the customer – or a misguided attempt to be well-spoken, professional and friendly all at the same time, unintentionally imparting a sense of mild condescension?
I just can’t figure it out. But here’s the thing. It’s a growing trend.
Yesterday I had a long phone chat with a man in a bank called Sean (the man, not the bank). I didn’t ask him whether he spelt his name Séan, Seaghán, Shawn or Shaun, for this was proving to be no bromance. He was in the process of not telling me why my application to open a bank account had been declined. I was upset. I quite wanted to tell Sean to go and fuck himself, but even as I thought that, I knew it wasn’t his fault, poor guy. But I did want to know why I’d been given a thumbs down. He said,
“I’m not able to tell yourself that. If I did, and if you knew what things were wrong with your first application, then you might change them and try to re-apply.”
At this point the conversation got a bit mad.
This was a bank which had written to tell me that it was ‘committed to being a responsible bank’ and they wanted me ‘to know why your application has been declined’. It became very clear that, in truth, they did not. Because then they gave me three widely diverging and vague possibilities as to why I’d failed to float their boat. So for ‘responsible’, read ‘disingenuous’. And now poor Sean was informing me that he couldn’t elaborate or tell me exactly where I’d gone wrong, because there was some danger that, using this knowledge, I might then take steps to re-apply and this time get it right. At this point the conversation got a bit mad.
“I know,” said Sean, as if reading my mind, “it’s all a bit mad, isn’t it?”
Now my heart swelled with sympathy for the poor guy. After all, he worked for a bank with a website ad that tells us they ‘want to end the silence surrounding mental health’, showing a picture of two laughing schoolboys with (yellow) Post-It notes stuck to their foreheads. Their telly ad, By Your Side, features a runaway horse galloping down deserted suburban streets, past a breast-feeding mum and some bemused factory workers on a car assembly line and ends with more school children chasing it along a beach. So, are we to conclude that, like horses, banks are large, sometimes stupid and maddeningly unpredictable? I wondered if their approach to acquiring new business included actually creating a few of these mental health issues, and whether Sean wasn’t destined to become one of their earliest victims. Or whether they shouldn’t go the whole hog and approach the Franz Kafka Ad Agency and the Frederico Fellini Production Company to make their next ad, Totally Ignoring You, Go Away.
Perhaps I could play matchmaker and introduce Sean to Customer Service Representative Harriet, the Miss Leading Information contender, before it’s too late. They might get on famously, swapping Post-It notes and sticking them on various parts of their anatomy.
John D Michaelis is currently in rehab for stationery addiction.