Thursday, 13 January 2011

I'm Back! (Also, call centres and catharsis)

Firstly, let me wish you a very Happy (albeit belated) New Year. I hadn't intended to have such a long break in between posts, but thanks to a string of events ranging from festive drunkivity to catching a dose of the flu, I found myself unblogging for an extended period. Fortunately, after some time spent sobering up, returning to work and battling a nasty winter bug or three, my brain is now fully functional (or as close to it as it's going to get) and ready and raring to blog. Plus I have a topic that is fresh in my head, and that requires some furious typing to act as a form of catharsis.

So, let me start at the beginning. About six months ago, Fiance and I purchased a swanky new(ish) car - it hits a year old this month and it has practically no miles on the clock. It is a beautiful car, it was pretty expensive (although the female in me needs to proclaim that we did get an amazing deal and a lot of motor for our money) and it is our pride and joy. I swear owning this car is like having a child - if the alarm goes off in the night, I wake instantly, aware that all is not right with our precious baby vehicle. It has a name - Sweep - and I am seriously considering holding a first birthday party for him. Um, I meant it. As far as it is possible to feel emotion towards a machine, I would say that we love our Sweep.

OK, now that the importance of our car has been emphasised, we shall fastfoward to yesterday, when I noticed a long scratch down Sweep's side as I got out and headed towards the house. Further inspection revealed the likely culprit was a scroat with a key - sadly, we had found ourselves in the unenviable position of being the victims of vandalism. We didn't think to check the rest of the car, the one injured panel we had seen demanded our complete attention and didn't allow us to focus on anything else. With the benefit of hindsight, this turned out to be a mistake - there was another scratch down the driver's door and yet another on the passenger side when we checked again this morning. We have no idea if the damage was there all along and we missed it, or if someone had come back and added to their handiwork last night. Not knowing is a bit of a mindfuck, to be completely honest.

We set the practical wheels in motion this morning - mainly finding out how we could get the car fixed and how much it would cost. This is where the quite inevitable crapstorm of confusion begins. First off, we checked the warranty which revealed that we had to find a dealer approved garage to carry out the work, thus not invalidating the cover. Fair enough. Of course, there isn't a dealer approved garage within a ten mile radius and no, the closest one couldn't give us even the vaguest of estimates without seeing the car. Also no, they wouldn't be able to book it in on the same day that we drive over there to get a quote because that would only involve one annoying journey on our behalf, and why limit the timescale for this hateful affair to a couple of days when it can easily be extended to at least a week? Indeed.

Can you feel the frustration building? My keyboard certainly can. Sadly, this was only the beginning and while it was painful enough, it was nothing compared to the experience that was my next telephone-based enquiry. I should have known better. I should have prepared myself for it. But stupid Virgin Media have lulled me into a false sense of security about what I can realistically expect from call centres, with their choose the style of music you want to listen to while you're on hold, ensuring you speak to someone who can answer an question while laughing at lame jokes and generally making you glad you called, before offering HD TV for a small one-off fee and nothing-else-to-pay-forever approach to customer service. They are awesome for recognising our awesomeness which is, I assume, why they keep giving us stuff for nothing, very politely and preceded by a musical theme of my choice.

As you can see, I have been spoilt and was naive to expect such courtesy from the insurance company when I tried to ascertain how many years' no claims discount I would lose if I claimed, and what the impact of that would be on my renewal quote. After five minutes listening to muzak of indeterminable style or origin, it turns out that I might as well have enquired about their interpretation of the meaning of life, and whether or not the existence of anti-matter should have any impact on what I can expect to pay for my car insurance next year.

It took three departments before I got anything close to an answer: Department One transferred me immediately to Number Two, the representative of which insisted on taking all the details of the incident - most of which I don't actually know, other than that our car has been hurt and we want to make it better as cheaply as possible - and giving me a claim reference number, even though I expressly stated that I did not wish to actually make a claim right then. Repeating the original, apparently unanswerable question to Number Two led to me being swiftly dispatched to Three, accompanied by an explanation from Two revolving around not knowing why I had been sent there in the first place. Number Three was on the phone for a matter of seconds before proclaiming they too were unable to help and inevitably transferring me back to Department One. I wasn't quite able to maintain my cool when I was asked to confirm my details for a fourth time upon arriving back where I'd started out.

At least on this occasion, I spoke to someone who was very apologetic and who did eventually come up with an answer (for anyone who wants to know, the meaning of life is apparently £15.12). I will be honest - I don't believe him. I think he got scared and shouted the first number that popped into his head when he sensed the increasingly annoyed tone in my voice, the undercurrent of which threatened to somehow reach through the phone line and throttle the nitwittery out of him if he didn't come up with the goods.

Reflecting on the experience, I will be honest and say that it felt like a fruitless mission that achieved nothing more than making me feel worse about the whole affair.

But looking on the bright side, I am rather relieved that Fiance spoke to the authorities to report the incident - being a bit snappy with call centre staff is one thing. Being snappy with a police officer is something that I would rather avoid. So thank you Fiance for potentially keeping me out of jail.

And screw you, whoever scratched our car and made me spend too much of today on the phone to irritating call centres. You suck, and I hope you smell bad forever.

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