A Sermon Somewhere: A Holy Dilemma Negotiating Internet Prices

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This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts trying to find sermons hiding beneath the everyday stuff of life.  .  .and failing miserably.

I just got off the phone with my internet service provider.  I called them an hour and a half ago.  When we moved a little under a year ago we discovered that our city of 2.5 million people only had 2 major internet providers.  The “competition” or lack thereof had rendered both useless.  So we signed up for the best deal, a promotional rate guaranteed to end after 1 year.

I marked late January, early February on my calendar and have been dreading the call ever since.  As an act of holy procrastination I visited their website first to see if maybe I could get a better deal without having to wait on the phone for an hour to talk to an actual person who would try to sale me on the “bundles” where they give you 3x what you need for only 2x the price.  The website had locked me out of my account but was really vague about it, asking for my customer number.  Ironically, a caveat of my promotional rate was that I would do online billing and the only way to find my account number was in the online bill on the website which I would not get to without the customer number.  This was quite distressing.

Reluctantly I dialed the customer service number.  The first thing they wanted was my unreachable, unknowable customer number.  I bypassed that through clever number pushing and eventually got the annoying elevator music.  It wasn’t without merit.  My two year old son danced to it in the background while I worked on a sermon for fifteen minutes.

Then I heard the glorious voice, waking me from my sermon stupor.  It belonged to a wonderful but completely not understandable man named Kent.  He wanted my customer number.  I explained to him through very baited breath, that the reason I was calling was because there was no way to know the customer number.  He was patient and asked for my billing address.  I spelled my street name for him.  He came up with nothing.  I said the street name again.  He repeated something entirely different to me.  I practically yelled the street name.  He suddenly saw where the error was.

When we got that all cleared up he told me that if they had a great deal whereby I would pay double what I am now but also have cable and home phone and a cell phone.  As poor Kent very patiently tried to explain to me that the bundles were my only option, I argued not so patiently back, “I am not going to pay for something I will never use.”

After a stalemate I finally just said it.  “So you are punishing your continuing customers eh?  Well that confirms what I suspected.  Let me call the other companies and see what options are available.”

There was a pause and then Kent said, “Let me transfer you over to our customer retention department and they will get you a deal!”

I had so many questions, “Wait, what?!  Why didn’t you start by doing that?  Why not just let the customer retention guys begin the conversation?  Why are there even two separate departments?”

I refrained from asking any of them and said, “That’ll work, I guess.  Thanks.”

10 minutes of great sermon prep later another man answered the phone and said three times in a row, “Can I get your customer number?”  I repeated the number, which Kent had provided, three times before he said, “I can’t hear anybody on this line.  Call back if you need anything.”  Silence.

15 minutes later, after entering my account number, listening to very choppy elevator music and doing some great sermon prep, I was talking to a man named John.  I explained the whole situation to him and he said that he could easily leave me at my current price with my current speed.  “Anything else?” he said.

“Nope,” I answered.  “Thanks.  You’ve been great.”  That last sentence had just a tinge of sarcasm to it.

There has been a lot said and written and preached about what how we treat people in customer service.  How do we react when our hamburger doesn’t emerge from the fast food kitchen exactly how we want it?  What tone do we use with our teller when they forget to give us the extra $20 we asked for?  What do we do when our coffee is too hot/cold?  What happens when we are on the phone for 3 hours and finally get a person on the line?  Does our love of our neighbor shine in those times or break under the pressure of not getting what we want?  Does our tone stay even or do we elevate our rhetoric to match our frustration?  Do those moments reveal the selfless love of God or the selfish love of things, or the more understandable hatred of elevator music?

All that is well and good but now I am sitting here realizing that my internet service provider is structured to give the people who throw the most fits the best deals.  In fact, a few months ago a door to door internet salesmen came to my door, hawking my provider’s wares.  When I explained to her we all ready had internet with that company but that our rate was expiring she explained to me, “If you call and act angry they will transfer you around a few times and if you are persistent they will renew your deal.”

I was thinking about her when I expressed my frustration to Kent this morning.  Because of her I knew I had to throw a tantrum, but a controlled one.  I had all ready scripted the line, “So you punish your current customers, eh?” because she told me to say almost exactly that.

And I felt very conflicted about that.  I felt mean and anti-Christ and unloving.  And yet their system is structured in a way that the shrewd bird gets the worm.

But on the other line was Kent.  I have friends who work in call centers and they let me know that on the organizational flow chart for my ISP, Kent is at the very bottom.  Kent didn’t decide to punish the current customers with these ridiculous bait deals.  He doesn’t write policy.  He is just the poor sap they hired to give the bad news.  But then he is also told, “if they yell at you, you can then transfer them to the good news guys but only if they yell at you.”

Well, sign me up for that job!  Who doesn’t like playing the bad cop every day for hours on end while they are told off by thousands of angry customers?  Who doesn’t want to bear the brunt of the shameful practices of a billion dollar corporation?  Who doesn’t want to answer for the sins of corporate greed?

So here’s the thing, we talk so much about acting like Jesus to customer service employees that I sometimes think we miss the point that they are actually far closer to who Jesus is than maybe I can ever be.

Or maybe I just had way too much time to think this morning while listening to elevator music.  Either way, there is a sermon in there somewhere.  .  .and here’s some lyrics from a little known Newsboys song that I can relate a lot too right now!

My Friend Jesus

by Newsboys

I bought a product they should not have sold.
I called the help line,
they put me on hold
I’ve been waiting for an hour
Now my phone’s losing power
And I’m gonna explode.
I hear, “How may I help you today?”
I know a very rude answer,
But I’m wondering, hey

What if everybody talked like my friend Jesus?
If everybody loved like my friend Jesus,
If everyone forgave like my friend Jesus,
It would give the world a new beginning.
What if this is like an early inning?

I state my business;
She puts me on hold.
I’m back to thinking;
I’m gonna explode.
And the dog wants dinner,
And the music they’re playing
is the sound-track of hell.
You say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right?”
Just try listening to Celine Dion all night.

But if everybody talked like my friend Jesus,
If everybody loved like my friend Jesus,
If everyone forgave like my friend Jesus,
If we want to mend world relations
Surely I can show a little patience.

I’ve been waiting around for this world to change.
Another day cut loose, another lame excuse.
I’ve got the why and how to start here and now…
…Then my cellphone drops the call.
…And I spew out vitriol.
…And as my fist goes through the wall, a voice says, “Be the change you wanna see!”

‘Cause if everybody talked like my friend Jesus?
If everybody loved like my friend Jesus,
If everyone forgave like my friend Jesus,
What a changed world this could be

If everybody talked like my friend Jesus?
If everybody loved like my friend Jesus,
If everyone forgave like my friend Jesus,
What a changed world this could be
Starting now, Maybe I can start the change in me.

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