It wasn’t until I had been on the phone with Ambar from Direct TV for 20 minutes that I noticed how much time had passed. Through his thick Indian accent, Ambar informed me over and over again that he would be pleased to help me with my concerns and wanted to know how he could helps.
We had been on the phone for 20 minutes. I had called, a quick call in my mind, to figure out why Trainwreck wasn’t playing on my TV. I had paid for it days before. At the time the screen had prompted me, telling me I couldn’t watch the movie that I had just paid for, until Sunday night. I found this odd, but ignored my instinct that something was awry. I don’t order a lot of Pay Per View as I’m not an avid watcher of sports or porn so for all I knew there was a longer waiting period to buy a movie than to buy a gun. When Sunday finally did come around, Trainwreck wouldn’t play despite my credit card having been successfully charged.
“If this call goes much longer,” I said to Justin. “It’ll be longer than the movie.”
Justin rolled his eyes and went back to reading the paper. After fifteen years together, I can decipher his eye rolls. I knew this one well. This was Justin’s famous customer service eye roll which has his thought bubble saying, “Why the fuck are you putting up with this?” It is the eye roll of someone who thinks the call would have gone better had he made the call himself, as if I had secretly wanted to spend my evening on the phone with Ambar while he attempted to helps.
I have long since had a love/hate relationship with customer service reps working in far off lands. When my call is answered by a well-intended customer service rep with a thick foreign accent like Ambar’s, I can’t help but picture what that person’s life is like.
I picture a starving gentleman of 25-years-old, cowering with fear as he attempts to solve my cable TV problems. I picture the stone hovel he and his huge family reside in. The family sends Ambar off to work each day like a soldier going off to battle. He’ll walk 14 miles in the one pair of shoes the family could afford. He’ll return home at the end of his 16-hour work day to be greeted by his family as if he’s a victorious warrior who has been unheard of for months.
This is where the guilt sets in.
“Here I am upset that my movie won’t work and he probably hasn’t eaten for days,” I think to myself.
And so I often find myself on what should be quick customer service calls that end up so long they require meal breaks. But I can’t bring myself to get angry, or to hang up. That’s because I have customer service survivor’s guilt. I feel badly about the life I’ve imagined for Ambar and his other internationally located customer service colleagues and so I don’t complain when they can’t help me with what seems like the simplest of customer service issues like say, a Pay Per View not working.
I stick it out encouraging Ambar, or whichever unhelpful but trying hard customer service rep who won’t admit he or she can’t solve my problem I’m speaking to, while secretly wishing he’d just pass me on to someone who can.
Justin finds my ability to passively suffer one of my least endearing qualities. Somehow that fact that I don’t call the Direct TV guy or the AT& T lady the dummies that they are becomes a strike against me with Justin rolling his eyes the whole time while muttering, “You’d never have made it out of Auschwitz alive. You’d be that one person who would be afraid to offend the guards.”
“But I’m representing America,” I tell him. “I don’t want to make a bad impression by complaining.”
It became clear that Ambar was never going to get my movie working. It had been over 30-minutes and Ambar was clearly reading from a customer service script that had him sounding like a robot who hails from Bombay.
“I am pleased to help you with concerns,” he said. “I will stay on the line while I help you with your concerns.”
At this point, Ambar had repeated the same script three times. Up until that point I’d been patient, even supportive.
“You can do it Ambar,” I’d say like a perky customer service cheerleader. “We’re in this together!”
Meanwhile, we weren’t in this together. I was in it alone because the only thing Ambar was actually doing was saying the same thing over and over again, clearly reciting his customer service rep script. He had already had me reset my entire Direct TV box, a lengthy process that seemed to drag on even longer with his repeated question, “What do you see on the screen now Mrs. Meredith?”
“Nothing!” I’d say trying not to seem rude. “I see nothing on the screen Ambar!”
But after resetting the Direct TV box, there was a change. The movie that had previously been on my screen but not playing was now gone with no visible sign that I had already paid for it.
Even I could take no more.
“Ambar I think we’ve done good work here, but I’m fairly certain it shouldn’t take this long to get a $4.00 movie to work,” I said cautiously, hoping not to crush his hopes and dreams of someday getting promoted to manager. After telling him I thought it best that I start seeing another Direct TV rep. I asked him to pass me on to a supervisor.
Secretly I hoped Ambar would pass me on to a stateside supervisor, possibly a cheery gal working from the Midwest. Then I could be sure I wouldn’t have to get this invested in another international customer service rep.
Truth be told if Ambar kept me on the line much longer, I couldn’t trust myself not to offer to pay for college for the many children I’d imagined he had. Ten more minutes and I’d be Pay Pal’ing Ambar money to buy the shoes I’d pictured his family couldn’t afford. I can’t be trusted spending too much time on the phone with a thick-accented customer service rep. The worry is too much for me. The investment too deep. I had to get off the phone.
Ambar hemmed and hawed and said he hoped my call with Direct TV had been satisfactories. “Ambar this has been real, “ I interrupted knowing the next words out of my mouth might be me asking if his children need me to pay for their braces or eyeglasses. “Now about that supervisor.”
Justin gave me a look. After fifteen years together I know his looks like I know his eye rolls. This was the “it’s about time” look that he reserves for me when I’ve finally had enough of bad customer service reps, one-sided friendships, or a play date that had gone on way too long.
And so Ambar did as requested. He passed me on to another customer service rep, this one a perky gal with a hint of a Texas drawl. Within 30-seconds she’d fixed my issue and my movie was playing. She apologized for the amount of time I’d been on the phone prior and was baffled by Ambar’s inability to help.
“Me, too,” I said to Karina D., my new Direct TV customer service rep. “Me, too.”
I hung up the phone, relieved I had gotten off the phone in under an hour and with no Pay Pal deposits sent to India. But deep down inside, I felt like I’d let Ambar down. I feared he’d go home to his stone hovel and report back to the family that he couldn’t get the movie working for the lady in California. Then his entire family would bow their heads in shame and lament the disgrace Ambar’s inability to fix Trainwreck had brought upon the family.
“I hope he doesn’t lose his job because he couldn’t help me,” I said to Justin.
Justin didn’t respond. Instead he watched the entire movie in silence, holding my hand and not saying a word. After fifteen years, I know Justin’s silences. This was the silence of a husband who was kindly trying hard not to tell his wife she had just wasted an hour of her life to get a movie started. This was the silence of a man resisting the temptation to tell me that Ambar was more likely from Burbank than Bombay. This was the silence of man who, after fifteen years, knows better than to mess with a bleeding heart.
So we sat back and watched the movie and Justin kindly waited until the end to tell me how much he hated it. After all, I worked hard for that movie. I deserved to enjoy it. After fifteen years, that means something.
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*Image generously shared by Ryan McGuire.