Full disclosure: I am not sure that the Chase Banking customer service representative in the Philippines said “afrulal” on the telephone last Sunday. I am not really sure what those syllables were, although she repeated them several times. I do know that she never said “Withdrawal” clearly. After I guessed right, she confirmed that was what she meant, so I repeated my question about the charge for withdrawing currency from ATMs abroad using my Chase debit card. She said it would be $5 for each ATM withdrawal and then three percent on the difference between the currencies. Call me dumb, if you can pronounce it so I can understand the observation, but I had to ask her how that worked. She couldn’t explain, so I thanked her (?), hung up and called Chase Banking again.
Additional examples of garbled and useless offshore customer service are numerous and tedious, so I will cut to the point: consumers must complain to U.S. companies, through the offices of their leaders, about this. The U.S. is said to be a service economy, but service jobs are melting away like a polar icecap. Service now is largely unacceptable and customer satisfaction is low. So are U.S. employment numbers. In 2013, the employment-population ratio, the proportion of working age people who are employed, stood at 58.6, down from a high of 63.3 in 2007. In New York State, the e-p ratio is 56.8.
Americans who speak clear English, even if it is not their first language, should have all customer service jobs. We are supposed to believe that exporting jobs keeps our bills down (have they been dropping?) because hard-working foreign employees earn a fraction of what U.S. workers do. But why should the American worker, who has direct and multiple value to the U.S. economy, pay this price? Jamie Dimon, chair and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., earned $18,670,000 in fiscal 2012 alone and a lot more since. Time Warner Cable’s brand new chair and CEO Robert D. Marcus, earned $9,968,326 as president and COO even before his promotion this January.* Verizon’s Lowell C. McAdam earned $13,835,632 (salaries are total compensation for fiscal 2012 and source is salary.com). Such purported leaders place the reputations of their companies in the hands of people who, try though they might, provide poor service. If imperial executive compensation were reduced to the salaries of kings, perhaps more American citizens could be hired. These bottom-rung employees would pay taxes on their salaries instead of collecting unemployment benefits.
U.S. banks, particularly before they brought down the U.S. economy with the help of lax regulators, proudly say they are global operations. However, when they cause disaster to themselves and the world, it is the citizens of the U.S. who are called upon to bail them out both through tax money and through the loss of their jobs. Americans must demand these companies provide jobs to Americans. We cannot rely on elected officials to do this for us. They have not so far.
To return to the story of Chase debit card consumer service: My second rep, also in the Philippines, said he was ready to explain my “concession.” After a long pause I confirmed that he was talking about “transactions” and our call continued to conclusion. I had agreed to take a satisfaction survey after each of my inadvertent calls to the Philippines, but in the middle of each survey, in which I gave low marks for everything but politeness, the lines went dead and the survey was cut off. Did Chase record me as satisfied or unwilling to take a survey? I was neither. Would I have been cut off if the computer systems sensed I was happy with the service?
One final recent example: Every few months my Time Warner Cable goes funky in the evening hours, when I watch tv. My calls for service go to Costa Rica where the inevitably-male service rep tells me to reset the cable box. That tedious procedure did not work a few weeks ago (static on my Verizon line compounded other communication problems) so the next morning I called Time Warner Cable service again and I reached a native-born middle-age American woman working in the U.S. She instantly knew that I had to type in new settings. During our twenty-some minutes on the phone I mentioned that I was happy that an American had a job at Time Warner Cable. She told me, her voice dropping, that she doubted she would have it for long. Guess she doesn’t think she’ll make the cut if the Comcast $5 billion (read five Billion dollar) acquisition of Time Warner Cable goes through. If history is an example, Time Warner Cable executives will receive golden parachutes so they can continue to enjoy multiple unused mansions and she will be eligible for shrinking unemployment benefits before she depletes her savings.
Saddest of all is that the American consumer deserves exactly what we are getting because we have accepted poor service and the off-shoring/exporting of jobs without protest. [Maybe unions had an important purpose after all and NAFTA and succeeding trade agreements were not so good for us.] We grumble among ourselves, perhaps, but we do not protest. Our elected officials have proven themselves to be largely unwilling to save U.S. jobs, so if we don’t like the service we are paying for, it is time to take time to complain directly to the offices of the CEOs of faithless companies. Starting jobs like consumer service used to be career ladders to future advancement. At present, routine annoyances indicate a systemic problem to our economic security and one that seems too tedious for us to deal with.
* A few weeks after this posting Robert D. Marcus agreed to receive $80 million dollars for six weeks of “work” in selling Time-Warner Cable to Comcast.