Tenderloin to Castro

tenderloin

After a pleasant flight to San Francisco, my boyfriend and I took a long Lyft ride into the city, sharing the car with another couple, two lawyers from Los Angeles, in town for “my middle school best friend’s baby shower!” The flight had been relaxed and comfortable, the plane only about 1/8th full, giving everyone plenty of space to spread out and relax.

We had pre-arranged a place to stay in the Tenderloin, an area on the north-eastern side of San Francisco, weeks before. It was described as a comfortable condo in an up-and-coming neighborhood. It was only later that we had learned from friends that this was one of the more dangerous areas of town. The Lyft driver let us off in front of the entrance to our condo, a gated doorway nestled in between an Chinese laundromat and an ethnic food store of some kind. A man in bandages sat on the sidewalk outside, a woman in a wheelchair was bundled up in tattered blankets, and a man with no teeth eyed our suitcases suspiciously.

Our host met us at the door, jogging down the block toward us from his work like some kind of super model. He was tall, lithe, and black, well-dressed with an incredible smile. He was also very straight. He greeted us with enthusiasm, said his name was Taye, and showed us into his tiny condo. He lived here, he explained, and worked at a start-up company down the road, one that was launching a new merchandise-sharing app. He liked to rent his condo out to guests and then go stay with his fiancee at her place. He showed us how to use the shower, invited us to eat the food in his fridge, and then rushed off back to work.

The condo was small. A kitchen counter with appliances, a sofa bed, a window, and a small enclosed bathroom. But this was San Francisco, and the place would do. The boyfriend, however, felt nervous in this neighborhood, and wondered if we would feel safe coming and going at any time of day. I wondered how I would spend my time in the 2 hours after I woke up and before he did without a different room to move into. Those early morning hours can be both a blessing and a curse for me.

After a few minutes, we realized how cold it was in the condo, and noticed there was only one blanket on the bed. I messaged Taye quickly about it, and he responded quickly that the heater was broken. He said that if we get cold, we were welcome to run the oven at a high temperature an just open the door, that it could warm the place up. I told him I didn’t feel safe doing that for three full days, then he recommended that I rent a heater. His start-up company liked to connect people with each other. I would just need to provide him with my Email address and full name, then download an app, and he could get a heater lined up for me that could be delivered in 1 to 4 hours, and I quickly responded that I would not be doing that.

The boyfriend and I had a good laugh for a bit. The last time we traveled together, to Minneapolis, we had an extremely negative experience with Airbnb. We had paid for a room and the host had never shown up, and it had taken the company several hours to get us new accommodations, ones that turned out to be extremely inconvenient. But between the sketchy neighborhood and the very cold room with no blankets, I decided to call and complain. The suggestion to run the oven, and the instruction to download an app, it all just suddenly felt very weird.

Airbnb took our complaint, and noted that the listing online had indeed advertised that a heater was in the room, something that I felt shouldn’t have to be requested at the prices we had already paid. They then reached out to Taye, giving him a deadline to call back within. Taye then called me, wondering why I was calling the company when he had been trying to help. He said he would order the heater for us, fine, we just had to wait there for it for 1 to 4 hours, and I told him we wouldn’t  be willing to do that as we were on vacation. He then frustratedly said he would find a way to get it there. Then Airbnb called back, saying Taye hadn’t called them back and that they were changing our reservations.

It happened quickly after that. I sent Taye a message explaining what had happened, and I left 10 dollars on his counter because we had used his shower. I felt bad right away, he was going to be out the money we had already paid, and likely fined by Airbnb for not having a heater. (The oven, the app, I reminded myself, but I still felt bad.) Suddenly we were being moved to a nicer area of town, our unpacked bags being put into a new Lyft to the Castro. Rushing away from Taye’s place, I felt like I had stolen something and needed to get out of the store before the employees noticed. We rushed hurriedly out the door, dreading the possibility of seeing him.

Before we arrived at the new accommodations, I received a series of frustrated messages from Taye. He said he hadn’t done anything wrong, that he had gone out of his way to bring us a heater because we had complained, and that he had entered the apartment to find a ‘measly ten dollar bill and a note’ waiting. Initially, I felt terrible and awkward, but soon we were being introduced to Jose, a kind man who lived with his husband and rented out his beautiful basement apartment. There was coffee and snacks, a huge beautiful bathroom, a comfy large bed with pillows and blankets, and a living room where two giant stuffed bears sat on the couch. It was inviting, spacious, and comfortable, like a home away from home should be.

Self-Checkout Hell

Selfcheckout

Thank you for using the self-automated check-out at your local grocery store!

To begin, please scan your 1-2-3 shopper’s reward card or enter your alternate id.

You have chosen to enter your alternate id. Please do so on the keypad on the right.

I’m sorry, I don’t recognize that number. Please try again.

I’m sorry, I don’t recognize that number. Please try again.

There you go! Welcome, valued customer! Please scan your first item and place it in the bagging area.

Did you place the item in the bagging area?

Please place the item in the bagging area.

Thank you. Please remove the item from the bagging area.

Thank you. Please place the item in the bagging area.

Now scan your next item and place it in the bagging area.

Thank you. Do you have any other items to scan?

No bar code detected. Please place the item on the scale and enter the corresponding ID number.

Thank you. ID number received. ID number accurate. Customer service associate has been notified to assist you.

Customer service associate has entered the same ID number you did. You may now proceed.

Please place the item in the bagging area.

Thank you. Please remove the item from the bagging area.

Thank you. Please place the item in the bagging area.

Do you have any other items to scan?

Please enter yes or no.

You entered no.

If you are prepared to proceed to check-out, please indicate so by pressing the corresponding button.

Do you bring in your own bags, or would you like to purchase bags from us?

You indicate you brought in your own bags. I think you’re lying.

Customer service associate has been notified to assist you.

Customer service associate has verified that you brought in your own bags.

I’m sorry for accusing you of lying. It’s been a hard day. I see all kinds of people. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.

Do you have any coupons? Please indicate.

You indicated you do not have any coupons. Are you sure? I could notify the customer service associate to assist you if you like. Just kidding.

It looks like you are ready to pay now. Please indicate your method of payment.

You indicated you are using a card. Is this a debit or credit card?

You indicated you are using a debit card. Is that correct? Please indicate so on the keypad.

Okay, debit card. Please swipe your card to the right.

I see you swiped your card. Now please push the debit card button again.

Now please enter your pin number.

Now please enter your pin number again for verification.

Now please enter your card sideways into the chip reader.

Thank you. Now please wait several seconds.

Card has been verified. Now please verify your zip code.

That is the incorrect zip code. Please try again.

Thank you. Now please enter the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Thank you. Now please enter your blood type.

That is incorrect. Aren’t you O negative?

Yes, that’s better. Now please indicate if this is the correct amount on the screen.

Do you want any cashback?

You indicated no, is that correct?

Do you want to donate money to the local children’s hospital?

You indicated no, is that correct?

Are you sure? I saw how much you have in your bank account. You can afford at least one dollar. If everyone pitched in one dollar, we could change the world.

You still indicated no, is that correct?

Last chance. Still no?

Okay. But I would like to remind you about karma.

Okay, it looks like we are ready to proceed. Please check your cart to make sure there are no more items. Please indicate so.

You indicated no.

Customer service associate has been notified to assist you.

Customer service associate has indicated that you do not have any additional items in your cart.

Thank you for your honesty. You are a good person even if you don’t donate to children’s hospitals.

Okay, valued customer! You are all ready to check-out! Please take your bags and receipt, and put your cart back where it goes, and drive safely.

I hope the 25 minutes that we spent together were as wonderful for you as they were for me! I hope you have the most wonderful day!

Sir? Sir, why are you cursing?

Sir?

Are you there?

Customer Disservice

airplane

“Hi. Welcome to Delta, KLM, and Air France.” The call started so well. A friendly female electronic voice asking me to speak prompts into the phone regarding the nature of my call. She sounds like a Lorraine to me.

“Are you a Sky Miles member?” No.

“All right. From here, you can say ‘check flight status’, ‘review my reservations’, or ‘representative’. Which would you like?’” Representative.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Would you—“ Representative.

“I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand you. Would you—“ Representative!

“Okay. I’ll connect you to a representative. But to be sure I get you to the right person, I’ll just need a bit more information first. Which of these are you calling to do? Say ‘Shop for a flight’, ‘discuss my existing reservation’, or ‘do something else’.” Something else.

“You’re calling about ‘something else’, is that right?” Yes.

“Are you calling about travel within the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands?” Yes.

“Okay, let me connect you to a Delta representative. One moment please. So you know, your call may be recorded for quality assurance. To help improve your experience, would you like to take a one minute survey at the end of this call?” No.

“Okay. Just a moment.” After a few clicking noises, a different woman’s voice speaks. “Thank you for calling. All of our representatives are assisting other callers. Rather than wait on hold, we can call you back when it’s your turn between 25 and 40 minutes from now. You will not lose your place in line if you choose to use this service. To receive a call back, press 1.” I enter my phone number and record my name, then wait for 25 to 40 minutes for a call back.

Displeased woman on phone

When Christina from Delta Airlines calls me back, I can hear in her voice that she has had a long day and has made a lot of call-backs. I make an extra effort to be friendly, but it does nothing to cheer her mood. She introduces herself and asks me to explain the reason I am calling. I explain to Christina that I had made a reservation online a few days before and that I made a small mistake. I meant to book my departing flight for November 9 and my returning flight for November 17, but that I had just noticed that the departing flight was for October 9. I needed to change it to November 9.

After taking my confirmation number and looking up the flight, Christina, sounding bored and disinterested, asks me to hold, then comes back on the line. “Chad, to switch your flight to the right day, that will be a total charge of $251.”

My brow furrows. “Excuse me?”

“I said to change your flight, it will cost $251. That is a $200 change fee, and $51 for the difference in prices.”

“What are you talking about?” I do my best to keep my voice calm. “I clicked one wrong day. I am giving you more than three months notice that I need a change. The entire flight, round trip, cost me $200. And now you want to charge me double that, plus 50, to change one day?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You want me to pay $451 for a flight that cost me $200?”

“Yes, sir.”

I breathe out slowly. “Christina, look, you can understand my frustration here, right?”

“Chad, I didn’t make this error, nor did my company. This was a user error. You had 24 hours to make changes, and you didn’t. So yes, it will be $251.”

“I clicked a wrong button. I am not blaming you. But I will not pay that fee to make one change. I could buy another flight for less than that.”

“That’s your choice, sir.”

Okay, I’m angry now. I grip my leg and squeeze and steady my breathing. “Christina, I would like to talk to your supervisor, please.”

“Okay. One moment.”

A second’s pause, then click. A dial tone. She hung up on me! Wait did she just hang up on me? She hung up on me! Oh, there’s going to be hell to pay. I furiously re-dial the number for Delta Airlines.

aggy

“Hi. Welcome to Delta, KLM, and Air France. Are you a Sky Miles member?” No.

“All right. From here, you can say ‘check flight status’, ‘review my reservations’, or ‘representative’. Which would you like?’” Check flight status.

“I can help you review your itinerary or select your seat. Are you calling for either of those reasons?” No.

“Are you calling about travel within the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands?” Yes.

“Okay. I can pull up your reservation using your six-character confirmation number. Go ahead and say that number now, like P-as-in-Paul, M-as-in-Mary, 7, Q, 6, 4. Or say, I don’t know it.” C12ZRT.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Please say your reservation number.” C-as-in-Cat, 1, 2, Z-as-in-Zebra, R-as-in-Red, T-as-in-Turtle.

“I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand you. Please say your reservation number.” C! 1, 2. Z! R! T!

“I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand you. Let me connect you with a representative. One moment please. So you know, your call may be recorded for quality assurance. To help improve your experience, would you like to take a one minute survey at the end of this call?” NO!

“Okay. Just a moment.” After a few clicking noises, a different woman’s voice speaks. “Thank you for calling. All of our representatives are assisting other callers. Rather than wait on hold, we can call you back when it’s your turn between 25 and 40 minutes from now. You will not lose your place in line if you choose to use this service. To receive a call back, press 1.”

416991834_934078da8e_b

I wait another half an hour and wonder what happened to customer service in my country. I have a fake argument with Christina in my head, and I wonder what my grandpa would think of customer service nowadays if he were still alive. I furiously wash some dishes. In time, I get a call back from Shawn. Where Christina sounded bored, Shawn sounds aloof. Maybe he’s playing Candy Crush on his computer while he talks to me, because I have to repeat the information three times. I explain that I have now spent 90 minutes on this call, and that I’d been hung up on. I explain the simple change I needed to make. He puts me on hold for three full minutes before returning and telling me that will cost $251 to make the change. I don’t argue. I ask for his supervisor. And he hangs up on me. He hangs up on me! Again! I feel like I’m in junior high school!

I literally scream at the ceiling and make my third call. There is hell to pay this time. I’m a man on a crusade. I’m a Viking warrior about to pillage their entire village of ridiculous policies and bad customer service. Hang up on me, will they? That electronic recording will be the first to feel my wrath. Lorraine, don’t even try to mess with me.

airport-delay

“Hi. Welcome to Delta, KLM, and Air France. Are you a—“ REPRESENTATIVE!

“All right. From here, you can say—“ REPRESENTATIVE!

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Would you—“ REP! RE! SENT! TATIVE!

“I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand you. Would you—“ REPRESENTATIVE! GOD-DAMN IT! REPRESENTATIVE!

“Okay. I’ll connect you to a representative. But to be sure–“ AAAGH!

“You’re calling about ‘something else’, is that right?” AAAAAGH! REPSRENTATIVE! NOW!

“Are you calling about travel within the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands?” My nostrils flare into the phone. This has to be some sort of cosmic joke. Lorraine seems to sense that I am beyond my capacity, and decides to let me get by without answering this one.

“Okay, let me connect you to a Delta representative. One moment please. So you know, your call may be recorded for quality assurance. To help improve your experience, would you like to take a one minute survey at the end of this call?” No. No. No. No. No. No. No. NO!

I go through the process of entering my phone number again. Some Viking warrior I am, I have to wait for a call back. I want to take an axe to their computer system. Dynamite would also be effective. The cruel gods of Delta, KLM, and Air France play one last little joke on me and increase my call-back wait time to 35 to 50 minutes this time. And they wait until minute 49 to call back.

When Pearl calls back, my fury has changed from a loud violent fist-clenching energy to a cold and simmering boil. I explain the last two hours of my life with a tone that conveys an extreme frustration, a strong backbone, and a subtext that lets her know that if so much as one more feather falls on this precariously strained scale, then I’m about ready to drop an atom bomb.

And then Pearl shocks me beyond belief. Is this happening? Are there still people like this out in the world? “Wow, Chad,” she says. “I’m really sorry for how you have been treated. I apologize on behalf of my coworkers. That is terrible customer service.”

My fury is gone, like a balloon pricked with a needle, and I sit back on the couch, exhausted. Pearl assures me that she is going to help me out. She looks up my flight. Then, within seconds, she gets permission from her supervisor to change the dates on the flight with zero charge to me. She apologizes again. I thank her, ask to speak to her supervisor, and make sure to give Pearl a glowing recommendation. “She is amazing!” I say. “Give her a raise!” I say. The supervisor laughs and promises to make sure my recommendations make it to her file.

Reflecting on this overall experience, I can’t help but think how large the impact we have on others in our day to day interactions can be. Neither Christina or Shawn wrote that ridiculous policy, nor did either of them set out to ruin my day. But in the course of their lack of interest in my situation, or in their need to be catty or right, they both treated me terribly. They even hung up on me. Pearl, however, spent a few seconds to be empathetic and kind and it made the rest of my day better. How easy is it to brighten the day of someone around us with just a little bit of kindness or customer service?

But don’t get me wrong, I still don’t plan on flying Delta again. Nobody should have to work that hard to correct such a simple mistake. What has the world come to?