Thursday, May 24, 2012

"The Luck Of The Draw"

Life is precarious.  Ask anyone who’s ever excitedly gotten great seats to a hockey game, and then, less excitedly, gotten hit by a puck.  They put up plexiglass around the rink, but, just the right angle, and it’s stitches and a scar.   

We won’t even talk about eating street vendor food pretty much, anywhere.  That’s just asking for it.

But sometimes, a benign situation can vary enormously in outcome, depending on, say, in the case of soliciting customer assistance over the phone, who it is, in that random lottery of “next caller up”, you get to talk to.

This story is hardly unusual.  I myself recall relating a story concerning some assistance I needed with my Mastercard bill, and calling, what turned out to be, a “Customer Service Representative”, based in Romania.

The man was eminently unhelpful, to the point that I was ready to give up.  Then, with the encouragement of my tenacious stepdaughter Rachel, I called back the same number, and, there being, fortunately, more than one of them, a got a different “Customer Service Representative”, this time a woman, based in India.  (How do I know where they’re based?  I always ask.)

The “Customer Service Representative” from India resolved my difficulty in two minutes.  When I mentioned my earlier, considerably less productive experience, she replied, “We have had a lot of trouble with our representatives from Romania.”

Her response may well have been anti-Romanian trash talk, or pro-Indian rah-rah, I don’t know.  I don’t call these people often enough to have a statistical track record of their helpfulness, cross-referenced by nationality.  But I, however, do know this.

Chauvinism aside, the success of your call will depend entirely on whom you are fortunate or unfortunate enough to get on the phone.

Here’s a more recent example, involving just Americans.

A member of my vast medical support team prescribed some allergy medicine, and it came with a card, which, when activated, would require me to pay “no more than $10” for the prescription.  My pharmacy informed me that the medicine had to be ordered, and would be available for pickup the following day.  So, as they were unable to tell me what the medicine could cost – and who knows, these days, it could be astronomical, I went home and called the number to activate my prescription discount card.

I figured, what did I have to lose?

I get a female “Customer Service” rep from the pharmaceutical company, whose voice is, not exactly unfriendly, but in her borderline edginess, one can sense the distinct inference of “I hate this job.” 

I explain the purpose of my call, and proceed to submit to a series of scripted questions – serial number on the card, name, address and phone number – blah, blah and blah.

The woman then asks, “Are you enrolled in any government sponsored prescription drugs program?”  To which I reply, “No.” 

I then make a serious mistake.  I volunteer extraneous information, to wit:

“I am covered under Medicare, but I am not enrolled in their prescription drugs program.”

“But you do have Medicare.”

“Yes, but not Part D, which is the prescription drugs section of the coverage.”

I have clearly – and very unwisely – deviated from the expected interaction throwing my disoriented “Customer Service Representative” into the proverbial tizzy.  (Who knows?  Maybe it’s her first day on the job.)  The representative then puts me on “Hold”, needing, she explains, to “talk to my supervisor.”

After a wait of about forty-five seconds, during which I am entertained by some quite pleasant recorded piano music, leading me to wonder if that might be an actual job – “I perform on ‘Holds’ for a well-known pharmaceutical company” – the representative returns with the bad news, though there is not a detectable hint of compassion, when she explains, 

“If you are covered by any government program, you do not qualify for this program.”

“Even if it’s not the drugs program?”

“That’s correct.”

“Thank you”, I reply, in a tone that is more exasperated than appreciative, and I heavily hang up.

I think about this all day.  It seemed bizarre to me that all the people covered under Medicare, not just those covered by the Part D program, were disqualified from participating in the company’s prescription drugs discount offer.  That excludes the majority of un-well people in America, old inevitably equaling sick…with one thing or another.  If that’s the case, why didn’t they print “Medicare Recipients Do Not Qualify” on the card, and save me the time of frickin’ phone call!

Since this inexplicable exclusion made no sense to me, I decide – with no encouragement from anyone – to call back, hoping I will get a different sales representative, who, like the lovely Ms. Mastercard from Mumbai, will have a more customer-friendly response. 

I am a little concerned that my earlier rejection has been recorded in their files and I’ll be busted, like the guy who’s circles back, trying to sneak a second free sample in the supermarket, when the sign says, “Only one per customer.”

“Did you not call us on this matter already, sir?”

As luck would have it, the second Customer Service Representative is distinctly sunnier.  (Just once, I'd like to get the second service representative first.  But then, of course, there would be no story.)

We go through the questions I have already answered – so apparently I have no been “red flagged” – till we get to the query that had previously tripped me up.

“Are you enrolled in any government sponsored prescription drugs program?”


Just “No.”  “Once…something, twice…something else” – I don’t know the saying, but it’s about not repeating your mistake.

“Okay,” she cheerfully confirms.  “Your card has been activated.”

I go to the pharmacy, and retrieve my prescription, paying “no more than ten dollars” – the exact price being ten dollars. 

I am not sure how you can pay less than ten dollars. 

And I don’t think I will bother to find out.


YEKIMI said...

Being currently unemployed [among many in my area] our local county government offers a discount prescription card offering up to 15% off generic & 55% off name brand drugs. Refilling prescriptions, both generic & name brand and having to pay out of my pocket, the bill was well north of $100 [and this was AFTER I had the pharmacy reduce it from 90 day to 30 days supply]. The government discount prescription card saved me exactly.....6 cents. I asked "Where's the 15%/55% discount savings I was supposed to get?", she said "Don't ask me, I just put the pills in the bottle"

Doug said...

Earl: You need to see "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Not only is it a pretty good movie, but there is a minor plot line involving the very problem you describe. Judy Dench is dispatched to handle the problem and does so with class (of course, she is, after all, a 'Dame').