I remember once getting pulled over for making an illegal “U-Turn.” As the police officer wrote out my ticket, I politely asked him “What should I have done”? The police officer replied, “Make a ‘Left’ into a driveway, back out carefully into the oncoming traffic and then turn left.”
I responded that that sounded more dangerous than the “U-Turn” I had actually made (which was safer because, when I made it, there had been no oncoming traffic), to which the police officer replied, “I do not disagree with that.” As he obligatorily handed me my ticket, I completed our interaction by saying,
“It must be terrible having a job where you are not permitted to think for yourself.”
The police officer had to give me the ticket because I had unquestionably broken the law. Even though we both agreed – or at least the police officer did not disagree – that my actual actions had in fact been the safer alternative.
The police officer was straightjacketed by the Traffic Code regulations from injecting his personal judgment into the proceedings (and not given me a ticket.) This, at least in that regard, made me believe that being a police officer was the saddest job I could possibly imagine. Until yesterday afternoon, when I ran into a young woman whose line of work, in my view, was immeasurably sadder.
I have a bodywork person who offers their clients a five percent discount if you pay them in cash. The Ten-Session Package costs one thousand dollars, which makes my savings a not insubstantial fifty dollars per payment. (Or, for my once-a-week sessions, more than two hundred and fifty dollars per year.)
These cash payments are hardly a major inconvenience. I go to the local ATM machine, and I withdraw…
Well, that’s where it gets tricky. You see, my ATM will not allow me to withdraw more than seven hundred dollars at one time. And I need nine hundred and fifty dollars. What this means is that I have either drive to another ATM for the remaining two-fifty (sometimes that fools them and sometimes it doesn’t), or come back to this one (or any other one) on a subsequent day.
Now I am aware that, without my even asking, the “Spending Limit” on my bank credit card, due to my long and reliable patronage, has been regularly augmented. I imagined, not unreasonably I believe, that an upwardly “bump” could similarly be made on my ATM “Withdrawal Limit.”
So I called my bank and I asked them bypassing the automated service by pressing “Zero” for an actual person to talk to about it.
You know how when you call a business, you often hear a recorded voice saying,
“This call may be recorded to help improve Customer Service”?
Well sometimes, I wish I could record calls, so I could provide you with a stenographical reproduction of the actual exchange. Since I have neither that nor a photographic memory, the best I can do is to recreate the overall impression. Which is less than ideal, but as the previous sentence apologetically explains, it is the best I can do.
A friendly young woman named…I no longer recall…welcomes me to the bank’s “Customer Service” department and asks me a couple of identification-verifying questions, to which I uncomplainingly respond. After enthusiastically acknowledging the correctness of my responses, she cheerily asks,
“How can I help you today, Mr. Pomerantz?”
I explain to the young woman, as briefly and directly as I can, that I want to have my ATM “Withdrawal Limit” increased to a thousand dollars. (Rounding up from my required nine-fifty.)
“Of course, Mr. Pomerantz”, came her reply. Which I in my ignorance believed meant, “Of course we can raise your ATM “Withdrawal Limit” to a thousand dollars”, when it in fact meant a bizarrely confirming, “Of course that’s what you want, Mr. Pomerantz.”
Here is the parallel with the “police officer” situation, only in this case it’s even worse. It was not just that the “Customer Service” representative was unable to help me. This young woman was clearly instructed via, I imagine, some rigorous “Orientation Program” that
“A ‘Customer Service’ representative must always be positive, even when – especially when – they are actually being negative.”
What the young woman could have said – saving us both a substantial amount of time, as well as her reputation for forthrightness and integrity – was,
“Mr. Pomerantz, although we would sincerely like to assist you, Bank of America policy permits a maximum ATM “Withdrawal Limit” of seven hundred dollars.”
And that would have been that. I would have been disappointed, of course, perhaps even angry. I could, if I wanted, have checked to see if other banks had higher ATM “Withdrawal Limits”, and if I felt it was worth it, I could have easily switched banks. But whatever, our entire phone conversation could have ended in thirty seconds. Instead of what it was, which was in the area of ten excruciating minutes.
The young woman must have known, or could have readily determined, that she would be unable to comply with my request. But, being required by her employers to be unequivocally positive, she was strictly prohibited from saying so. Imagine a fish dangling from a hook, jerking around desperately, while consciously aware that the ultimate outcome to their tortured struggling was inevitable. The young woman’s evasive maneuvering was palpably agonizing. Although the “dead fish” in this situation was me.
Obligated to act like she was trying to help me (while fully knowing that she couldn’t), the “Customer Service” representative presented numerous clarifying questions, the answers to which, she suggested, might lead to the resolution I was looking for. She went “taka-taka-taka” on her computer. She occasionally paused for what appeared to be serious strategic consideration. She tried to explain to me in a way I could not comprehend – as I invariably cannot comprehend things that do not make any sense – that the seven hundred dollar “Withdrawal Limit” was actually for my own protection.
Most egregiously, on three separate occasions, the young woman happily informed me that she could indeed raise my ATM “Withdrawal Limit” to a thousand dollars, but only, she explained, “temporarily” (for fourteen days), an offer I had rejected the two previous times that she had proposed it.
That’s right. She proposed a temporary “Withdrawal Limit” supplementation once, and after I replied, “That will not help me with this situation”, without acknowledging doing so, she made the same unhelpful proposal two additional times!
My heart went out to this woman. I could detect an element of discomfort in her voice, suggesting that either she wanted to help me, or at least inform me that she couldn’t. I was undeniably upset not to get what I was asking for, but at the same time, I wanted to hug that woman, and encourage her to find a job where her capacity for self-expression was less punishingly restricted.
Writing for television, I was often infuriated at being prevented – by the studio or the networks – from saying what I wanted to say in a sitcom script. But at no time was I ever instructed to say exactly the opposite.
“I want to help you, but they won’t let me tell you I can’t.”
That was all I wanted to hear. But if her employers found out she had said, the young woman would most certainly have been fired. And they would definitely have found out…
Because they were recording our conversation to improve Customer Service.