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Name That Tune (You Paid For It)

English: A Telephone Exchange operator in Rich...

“Do you have your unique customer rage number handy? Good, please hold.”

Whilst watching a film recently, I was struck by something. It was only a thought and I was rather squiffy so it didn’t hurt too much, but still, I should probably wear a crash helmet and goggles whilst doing these things. My mind was taken by one line in particular, which was one of those well known phrases that my grandmother would likely have trotted out, and I would have had no use for while elbow deep in Fuzzy Felt Farmyard and don’t-tell-your-mother Kit Kats. Well now I do. The phrase, for those of you not currently swept up in a haze of nostalgic Fuzzy Felt memories, is “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.

The reason this phrase caught my attention is that I, and most people I know, seem to spend a great deal of time embroiled in some bitterly frustrating battle with utility and service providers, for months at a time and with very little option but to allow them to keep dipping their greasy paws into our ever-diminishing coffers. These giants have the monopoly on our phones, our internet, our gas, our electricity – our power in more ways than one – and they sit back like huge bloated ogres, lazily picking their teeth with the bones of our pay cheques, growing fatter and lazier by the day as we, the humble consumer, accept a dwindling service level and weep bitterly into our unyielding stack of bills. But surely, it is we who pay these fat greasy pipers, so we should be naming that tune (even if that tune is Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You, because you’ve had it stuck in your head for an entire day).

If you’ve ever needed to contact one of these so called service providers for any reason, you’ll know what a soul destroying circle of hell it is. You have to complete the 7 Trials of Hades, prove your worth against the 5-headed Vanquisher of Time and collect the Password of Permissions from the paws of Cerberus, and that’s just to get through the automated phone system in order to then be placed on hold for seemingly endless minutes while a tinny pan pipe rendition of Oasis’ Wonderwall claws at your ears, making you question whether you really want ears after all. Once you’ve suffered 2 hours of this, you get through to someone called “Carol” or “Tony”, with a suspiciously thick Indian accent, who has never heard of spotted dick or the tedium of the M25 (the true tests for any UK resident).

The phone call will be about as smooth and pleasant as a hornet milkshake. Not only do they struggle to understand you, they struggle to care, struggle with their script and struggle with making your mundane issue meet their upselling quota. You’re going to have to call back. You’re going to have to collect the egg of unicorn, the dying breath of a witch and the whispered vow of a crossed lover and call back to complete whatever menial transaction you wished to cross off your to-do list in the first place. After just another 3 hours on hold at premium rate.

You may think that you could, in this day and age of modernity and technological advancement, bypass the trial by telephony and access your accounts and the oily technological giants via their slick websites. You’d be as wrong as a pair of trainers worn with a skirt-suit. Each of these flash websites is designed to present you with big bold solutions, inviting you to click on them for just the thing you want, only to send you tumbling down an M.C. Escher-esque eternal stairway of confusion and frustration, to land back on the blinking home page of big bold solutions.

You’d like to complain, would you? To pass on some valuable feedback to these plunderers-of-pay packet? Good luck. I personally adore writing complaint emails; I do not wish to spend my time rankling a call centre cretin who has as much power to assist as a paperclip in a heart surgery, and I thoroughly enjoy detailing with grandiloquence and icy contempt exactly how I have been wronged. The trouble is, these odious capitalist ogres do not wish to receive your feedback and they do not wish to hear how they could improve their service, so they hide their channels of complaint behind a wall of blinking special offer web pages and tedious telephone queues. Alarmingly for companies selling communications, they do not seem keen on communicating with you at all.

Considering how easily they can invade our personal spheres with their spam emails, cold calls and junk mail, it is entirely unjust that we, the people providing the tuneful piper with his private jet and the holiday home for his girlfriend and another for his wife, should struggle to speak to an employee or find a simple email address to point our customer feedback towards. One false move as far as your payments go and you’re plunged into darkness and silence, as your phone, media and electricity are mercilessly cut off, but should they have “accidentally” overcharged you, you have to complete 28 forms in 42 languages using your own blood, and then your 28 forms will be placed at the back of the queue, which is currently up to Mavis Bradlington of Great Yarmouth, who filed her forms in 1970 when she lost a shilling to the gas meter.

I was recently issued an account-closing final bill from one such service provider, asking me to pay them, without question, the sum of £91.00 for a mere month of electricity. I was fairly certain that I hadn’t been using an open fridge as an air conditioning unit, so I questioned their Twitter account wranglers, who advised me this precise sounding figure was “an estimate”. This company had guessed that I owed them nigh on a hundred pounds. I told them to guess again. I find the notion of handing out money to people who just guess at totals to be most novel and wouldn’t it be a hoot if I guessed at how much I’d like from them?!

Well, enough is enough. I say we claim back the right to have these pipe-playing giants play our merry tune, and that tune is not a pan pipe cover of Wonderwall down a crackly international phone line. These are basic commodities and we are paying for anything but a basic service. We should expect to have our posteriors kissed and our calls handled (not the other way around, that’s an entirely different type of “service” provider). We should be able to manage our service accounts without wishing to run up the gas bill in call centre-induced suicides. They know they have the monopoly in utilities – I’m not suggesting for a moment we all try to do without electric lights or heating, but we can certainly make our voices heard. Complain, name and shame.

Complain, not to the minimum wage minions in the far off call centre, not to the character-limited box on the hidden feedback page of a website, complain to the top. Tell the pipe tootling big cheese exactly what his company should be doing for you and exactly why you’re taking your business elsewhere, which you should, while announcing it publically. Eventually they (or the people who make decisions and open emails on their behalf) will get the hint and start treating their “humble” customer base with the reverence we pay for. Failing that, I say we boycott them entirely, reinstate carrier pigeons and run our homes on generators powered by hamsters. Hamsters don’t have call centres, right?

Wondering how you can contact the pipe tootling big cheese at your least favourite service provider? Wonder no more.

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