Sunday, November 29, 2009

Harass the Serviceperson: Gameplay and Examples

In their retirement, my relatives have taken up a game I like to call “harass the serviceperson.” It has become the chief joy of their existence, one which they have elevated from a game to a way of life.

To play “harass the serviceperson,” begin with an attitude of privilege. Naturally, being wealthy and old, while not a prerequisite, makes game play smoother. You must also cultivate a complete lack of understanding of the industry in which your target serviceperson works. There are two possible opening moves. Either develop an irrational frustration over a minor problem, real or imagined, which is beyond anyone’s control, or fabricate a ridiculous or impossible request and present it as both reasonable and expected. Then find a target serviceperson—the twenty-first century, with its twenty-four hour customer hotlines, has been a great blessing for the game—and present your problem or request in the form of a non-negotiable demand.

Unless the serviceperson convinces you that you are in the wrong (unlikely if you’ve begun with the appropriate attitude) you win every time! Bonus points are added if you make the serviceperson cry, get transferred to a higher level of management, or receive undeserved free goods or services from the company in question.

My relatives are the masters of “harass the serviceperson” and play in marathon sessions to enliven their old age.

For instance, like many old people, they believe a particular Internet Service Provider is hands-down the best ISP, because it caters to those who enjoy playing this game and provides customer service reps who know how to make the game last. On one occasion, my relatives managed to stretch a single game of “harass the serviceperson” over a space of ten days. Here’s how: they signed up for a service that would deliver a report from their stock account to their inbox every evening. Following some changes on one of the sites, these emails stopped coming.

My relatives immediately called the ISP’s customer service hotline to complain. For the next hour, they happily escalated their argument, demanding that the person at the other end, who had no part in the problem, fix it. (Keep in mind, to properly play “harass the serviceperson” you must drop any notion that you could solve your own problem, for instance, in this case, by just checking the stocks yourself. Remember, privilege means you’re always right, and other people always cater to you.) The serviceperson ceded the first round by announcing that the problem was with the stock site, not the ISP, and my relatives enjoyed a nice bout of vivifying rage, which is not the purpose of the game, but a welcome side-effect, like runner’s high.

The next night, they had the same conversation with a serviceperson for the stock site, who ended the conversation by claiming the fault lay with the ISP. The night after that, they called the ISP, with the same results as the first call, and the fourth night they called the other site. If you can believe the tenacity of my family, this pattern continued for a week and a half, until the glitch was fixed and my relatives “won.”

Using the second opening gambit, they once filled an afternoon with the game. Deciding upon a financial course of action, they went into a bank. Not their bank. Not a bank they had ever done any business with. Simply a random bank they passed in the car. With no documents, they demanded that the bank officer make a change to a certain account. The bank officer insisted that this was impossible, that he could not take action without the appropriate documents, IDs, account numbers, and passwords. After working up a nice rage, my relatives left the bank, mumbling that the guy was an idiot.

Then they went into another random bank, again, one where they had never done any business. The sequence of events was the same as at the first bank, right down to their insistence that the guy was an idiot. And believe it or not (and if you’ve read this far, you’ll believe it) they repeated this performance at a third bank, after which it was almost five o’clock, and they could play some shorter rounds of “harass the serviceperson” at an early bird buffet.

Seeing the joy the game imparts to my family, I can’t wait until I’m old enough and rich enough to play.