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Who says customer service is impersonal?

Maybe it’s the lousy economy. Maybe it’s because automation in call-center, inbound situations is finally making a real difference. Or maybe it’s because the connectedness of the social media world has such an artificial feel to it. But I’m feeling an upturn in human contact — enabled by, but not because of, electronic communication.

Three recent examples:

Gum. I’ve chewed gum all my life. I know it’s not a lovely habit, but, like tattoos (I’ve got one of those, too) it’s become mainstream. In the past few years, the gum-making industry has put forth a burst of innovation in both gum flavors and packaging. We no longer live in our grandfather’s world of five-stick packs of Beeman’s or Juicy Fruit. So on a lark, I sent an e-mail to the Wrigley division that makes the sugarless Extra brand of gum. I wanted to tell them how much I like their mint chocolate chip flavor. Plus it has Sorbitol, which my dentist approves of. Within an hour I got a personally composed reply from Tosha M., a consumer care representative. No freebies, but they were glad I liked their gum.

Blackberry. Hoo, boy. A total of nine hours on the phone with three level 2 tech support reps. One call lasted through dinner. I put the phone on speaker, so when the tech put me on hold to read log files I’d zipped and e-mailed, we had dinner music. There is a subtle, intractable, and horrible flaw in the complex of software required to do a simple task–sync my Blackberry with my Mac. Lack of sync is one problem. That something, some bit of code somewhere actually causes the USB ports on the Mac to die, forcing a power-switch reboot, now that’s really an issue. One rep was in Canada, one in Texas, the third in Nova Scotia. The case tracking and history technology Research in Motion really works. And when you’re on the phone with a stranger for three hours, he or she becomes not such a stranger. We exchanged family stories. I accompanied a musical show on the piano over the weekend. J.C. at Blackberry sings in his church choir. We complained about the Dallas Cowboys. The Nova Scotia rep, in hour nine, had a shrewd insight. He had me install Blackberry Desktop on my wife’s Mac. Worked perfectly.

Uh oh. This is a “your hardware problem,” isn’t it, I asked tentatively. ‘fraid so, came the answer. Bummer. Luckily I have a nearby Mac dealer that’s not an annoying Apple Store with annoying “geniuses.” They can fix anything Macish.

Carrying cases. I have several electronic keyboards. I’m partial to Korg and Kurzweil. (I’m in the market for a used Farfisa.) I am buying nice, uniform cases for them. Handles, metal corners, foam lining. I found a place in New York that keeps a database on the exact dimensions of hundreds of instruments and other pieces of equipment. Even Sousaphones, which I don’t play. But they make each case on demand. Tom answers the phone and it’s like we’re old friends. One case ships without the wheels. One call and the wheels kit comes the next day — with a deduction off my bill for the wheels option because I have to install them myself. That requires an electric drill.

Three industries, and customer service with a personal touch is alive and well.

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