At Eternity's Gate
INTERESTING STUFF – 5 October 2019

Wasting Crabby Old Lady's Time

It's not as though the topic of today's blog post is news to anyone. Crabby Old Lady doubts there is anyone reading this who hasn't been there but that doesn't make it less irritating, even enraging.

All Crabby needed to do a few days ago was update a payee's bill payment information on her bank's website. It should have been a 30-second operation. But no. When she clicked the “enter” button onscreen, a pop-up told her the operation could not be completed and to call an 800 number for help.

Of course you know what happened next. Crabby went through four – count them, FOUR customer service representatives who, the various on-hold recordings told her, are apparently called “bankers” nowadays: “A banker will be with you shortly.”

It's anyone's guess, as far as Crabby can tell, why a “banker” would know anything about a webpage malfunction but that's how things go these days.

With various amounts of time on hold, the dreaded “I'll transfer you”, one broken connection during a transfer with each one requiring Crabby to navigate the phone tree yet again, Crabby Old Lady spent more than 45 minutes before finding a person who even understood the problem, simple as it was.

And get this: Crabby told each of the four people that she probably knew the cause of the problem: that the new name of the payee was nine words long and would not fit in the character-limited box on the screen.

After another five or ten minutes on hold, the fourth person told Crabby that she was correct, the name was longer than the character limitation allows but she had fixed the problem and it would now work.

It did.

Does a happy ending make you feel any better for having slogged through eight paragraphs of a story you know all too well?

Probably not but Crabby wanted to give you a flavor of her hour and 15 minutes on a phone call that should have taken two or three minutes.

In her old age, Crabby Old Lady finds that everything takes longer and that's not her imagination. Undoubtedly, that's true for some of you.

Crabby wears out so easily nowadays that she has no more than about six, maybe seven hours of productive time a day. All her life, Crabby was a jump-out-of-bed kind of person, eager to get going on a brand new day.

Now she lies in bed each morning, so comfy, cozy and warm, free of any kind of pain and thinks seriously about staying there. She hasn't done it yet but you never know.

With her new-ish COPD diagnosis, simple walking becomes problematic. Crabby Old Lady forgetfully starts out toward the trash bins or mailbox as if she's still in New York City at rush hour. It takes only a few steps before she is heaving for breath.

Changing the bed takes at least twice as long as all her previous life because she needs to sit down for a short rest two or three times before she's finished.

And then there are the mystery time losses such as this one: Crabby decides to wash up the few dishes in her sink and when she's done, she sees that 30 minutes (!) have gone by.

Really? It's only Crabby eating here and the dishes are few – those from lunch and maybe left over from breakfast too so it should take five minutes or so of mild effort.

What happened to those other 25 minutes?

Sometimes it happens when she is getting dressed or folding laundry or sorting the papers on her desk. Large swathes of time disappear and Crabby doesn't know where they went. Did she black out for awhile and not know it?

Crabby Old Lady was blessed with 76 healthy years of life before being diagnosed with cancer and don't think she doesn't appreciate it. But it has been so hard to adjust to living with the time demands of ongoing disease – and that's on top of the normal slowdown due to age alone..

So it time is already short in old age. When poorly trained or incompetent people can't deliver what they are paid to do so that hours go by, that is theft of Crabby Old Lady's time.

And it's not like stolen money - no one can pay back time.


Oh Crabby, I hear and feel for you. These online technology issues are some of the biggest time-sinks. I try to avoid them at all cost, even though I have to admit that, when it comes right down to it, my life is fairly full of time-sinks these days. More and more I'm finding that coping with anxiety and irritation that seems to come with the state of the political world these days often comes from non-essential little activities like working a word or math puzzle, or heading down a rabbit hole after some new piece of interesting information. It's sometimes hard to quiet my brain otherwise. But spending time on the phone with people who cannot efficiently and correctly solve a problem leads to nothing but more irritation. I'm happy to hear you finally found the right person, but sorry it took so long. May your weekend be restful and relaxing.

As a former customer service rep I can assure you it is as frustrating for the rep as it is for the customer. Often CSR's are either not trained to complete your request or don't have the authority to do so. As America switches from a manufacturing to service based economy, we can expect more incompetence in the future.
As far as the "lost time" experience is concerned, unless you were abducted by aliens, it's just a normal part of old age.

My grand daughter in Austin, Texas, where rents are criminally high, is looking into the possibility of living as a care taker with an elderly person or couple, while she attends college. I am wondering if this kind of thing might be a solution for you, from the other side?

Her mother would sympathize with you very strongly as she has just fought her way to renew her driver's license in Teax with all sorts of problems, long, long telephone calls and massive paperwork, due to her being a British citizen with a green card which has no photograph of her on it...

Life seems to grow more and more complicated as the years pass and the illnesses of old age do not help one iota ( I am 82 years' old with congestive heart failure = no fun.)

I admire your courage very much. Your talks and emails are tremendously enheartening.

With so many best wishes, Erika W.

Telephone calls are the pits! If at all possible (and it usually is if I'm doing something online), I handle the problem through IM or email. Especially with email, I can send the people screenshots to show them exactly what I'm seeing.

Good luck, Ronni. I would send you some time; but, it keeps disappearing on me.

I recently had an exchange with a customer service rep that actually went well. I called because a gizmo wasn't working and I was having difficulty with the written instructions on how to fix it. I called the gizmo's company and was told that "there was a higher number than usual of calls" (like there always is!!). But they gave me the alternative to leave a number I could be reached at. Meanwhile I continued to fiddle with the gizmo and just when I finally got it to do what it was supposed to do, I got the callback. Gee, what a surprise. Anyway the rep was friendly, I explained I no longer needed her help and then she offered me some additional advice to prevent the problem in the future, advice not written in their manual. I actually hung up feeling like the call was worthwhile after all.

I like that some companies offer the callback option, it does make waiting to talk to a real person more bearable.

And to Erika W, I think your grand daughter's idea is excellent. I hear that in some places, young students are being offered free rent in exchange for assisting older people. It's beneficial for the older person and the young person gets some insight into the lives of older people, the ranks of which they will one day join.

I would send you some energy, but I seem to be short myself these days.

Thank you as always for sharing your life, humor, and wisdom. Much appreciated.

After several such experiences with a national bank branch a few years ago, including two where they said I'd have to physically come to the bank to straighten things out, I went back to a community bank, where I've had no problems whatsoever. All my business dealings these days go to "great customer service."

I worked for quite a while as an "elder assistant" with a company offering non-medical help. It was rewarding for me and helped several, "old" (Older than me! LOL) people stay in their homes and use their energy for what they wanted to do - not laundry and cooking and so on. Even a simple trip to the mailbox gave back some minutes. These services aren't cheap (and the caretakers are not well paid!) but it might be an option for a couple of hours help a day or however often works for you.

I second the motion for community banks and agree with the distaste for automated responses. It took me quite a while to break through the stupid "voice recognition" software at my health insurance company, but once I lost it and yelled, I got a knowledgeable, professional, helpful, friendly live human who solved my problem immediately! And this saves time and money how?

I just spent 30 minutes on the phone with my Internet provider trying to figure out why I was unable to log on from a library computer. We never did figure it out but the rep reassured me it wouldn't happen again!

I have gotten so I have to take deep breaths before I call a "customer service" number these days. The more automated we have become, the longer everything takes. Also, if I'm calling about internet service or the computer, the (young) person on the other end of the phone talks really fast and uses words I have never heard before. I try to only work with local businesses, as well. Once or twice in the last year, when I was really sick, I have asked my son to deal with such situations because I just couldn't do it. That was a humbling experience.

I can certainly relate to the lack of customer service every where. I don't know how many times I have told some poor soul at Spectrum I was thinking of leaving their service. And now my daughter got me a phone that I have no experience with. sigh... age, I turn 80 next week, to me a milestone I should look forward to.

Oh God, yes!

Customer "service"? It seems to be a huge disappearing act! All the corporations take our issues "very seriously" which usually doesn't help with getting them resolved in a timely manner. (I did actually have a positive interaction with a pharmacy recently, which earned them a great review.)

I used to be a super high-energy person, and I really miss that part of me. Physical pain and lack of energy (old-age conditions in which I'm not alone) have slowed me down, but at least I can still get the essentials done. My husband, who will turn 90 next month, is handling the ageing thing a lot better than I am!

It is what it is.

Having recently spent MANY hours trying to sort out a health insurance problem and, just now, spending another hour on the second appeal, I am SO in the same mood as you, Crabby Ronni. And, of course, this is only one example of the "new customer service," whether it be related to banking, internet service, TV service, insurance, you-name-it. Perhaps we "older" folks, who are struggling with many of the changes that come with the current territory we inhabit, should secede from "the perfect union" and form our own state. Oh, that's right, it's called a retirement community.

But, seriously, Ronni, my challenges pale in comparison to the ones you're facing these days. It's one thing to deal with incompetence and technological complexity under reasonably healthy conditions, but it must be almost unbearable for someone in your state of being. Sharing your experience reminds me to take some deep breaths, pull up my big-girl pants, and be grateful for all the good in my life. Thank you for all the wisdom, humor and human-ness you gift us.

Like Susan R, I only give my business to those who give me great customer service. When I get sidetracked with bad service, I complain, I write a bad Yelp review, and I find somewhere else to spend my money. My time is very valuable and I can't waste any of it. If an activity doesn't give me joy, I have probably given up on it.

Meg... I've discovered that if you toss out a few of those words that your Mom told you that ladies NEVER use... on the voice recognition software... a real person will be on line pronto. Apparently some of the systems are trained to recognize frustration. Some also recognize if you say "real person" or "live rep". Worth a try.

I hope your phone is close to your refrigerator so you can enjoy some ice cream while on hold.

Several years ago I had bought a new laptop computer, which wouldn’t let one of my email accounts work. I called several “help” numbers and ended up with a nice and knowledgeable person in India. I think he tried for about three hours, but he couldn’t get it going. However, during those hours we had a nice conversation, and the next morning he called me to once again apologize and tell me how much he enjoyed talking to me. I took the laptop back for a refund. Wasted time - in one way yes, in another way definitely not.

The new Gods of phone "service" are the automated unit (impersonal at best) and the
"IT" dept. (unreachable). Those of us not "digital natives" will be left to flounder in the Twilight Zone, at least until the younger money makers get older and realize what they have created. B

I write from a Writer's Festival I optimistically thought would work out for me. I am pulverized as I type this. Overextending my energy into November it feels like. Overdraft. I can barely walk and every seat makes my back scream in horror at this latest bodily indignity.

My time is precious. I can't afford to waste it. So I hear you loud and clear. I need to say no more often. And not be trapped a plane ride away from my own comfort zone in pain and distress.

Lesson learned.


For the time loss factor.. when I do household chores I have a cordless headset that I wear so I can listen to a TV episode or a podcast while I do things.

I know how long the episodes last for, and when I put the podcast on I know how long it goes for, and I can always tap my phone and see time elapsed and how much time is left.

This really helps me with that "lost in the temporal vortex" "time vanishing without me knowing it" thing. ;)

Oh, Crabby, I am SO with you on this!! The robots! the machines! The disconnects! And then, if you're not lucky, the CS rep appears to have no clue as to what you're even talking about! (I once called Comcast because I didn't yet know the icon for "pause" on my remote. I waded through the robots, and got a guy who sounded, well, not overqualified. I asked him what the symbol was for "pause." He put me on hold for a good seven minutes before he came back with the answer, which meant that HE HIMSELF DIDN'T KNOW! And yet, they were PAYING him!! :::boggle:::

I'm definitely going to take Trudi's suggestion and blast obscenities into the phone, and if that gets me a human sooner, hooray!! (Though i have also been hung up on by a CS rep who thought I sounded testy when in fact my language was perfectly okay and I was not shouting, though I was obviously irritated.)

Surprise! Tho I've had similar experiences as Ronnie with customer service, I recently took a big gamble for me. I got a new cell phone and my go-to-guy, my nephew, said call customer service on your bill. They will walk you through activating new phone. I was a bit anxious, kinda like when I took my drivers license at 16. Customer service fellow was great. In 20 minutes I was activated. Being quasi techie, I was as proud of myself as I was getting my license at 16! :-)

Ronni, "write on, writin' on" as you provided laughs with this column with your clever and entertaining writing.

Cathy J., this could be a post for me, too, those treacherous, enticing rabbit holes are everywhere!

Erika, a grand idea. I'm a strong advocate of recycling and combining needs with solutions between the generations like here is a win for everyone.

Such a situation is enough to make ANYONE crabby! Yes, we can all relate.

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