This week gave me another example of the death of customer service in our society. And it came with a connection to fiction, specifically, Rob Hart’s latest work, The Warehouse.
I’m a home DIYer with enough experience to get by in a pinch. This time, my furnace was acting up and not heating when the thermostat hit the magic “heat me” number. This was a bit frustrating in that we just had the unit serviced as part of a maintenance plan.
But, the issue seemed pretty straight forward and I wanted to upgrade the existing twenty-year old thermostats to something more modern, with the cool wifi interface, the kind where I could summon the Gods of Fire from my desk and heat the writing space.
To save time and cut down on the endless wandering in the home improvement store, I used their online purchase option, the one where you pay for the item and they will have it at the store for you to pick up. This is The Big Home Improvement Store, you know the one with the corny orange aprons that make everyone look like a Bob’s Big Boy fry cook, or worse…
My online purchase was complete and my closest store reported that they have four of the thermostats in their inventory. I need two, so this is perfect. The store would message me when the order was pulled from the shelf within two hours. Great.
Two hours goes by.
When fours hours ticked by, I got in the car and drove to the store. I figured, hey, their message probably got lost somewhere in the interwebs.
I go to the “Customer Service” desk and the woman looked pissed that I interrupted her gossip session with two co-workers. I’m told my order isn’t ready, so just wait–over there.
Another thirty minutes and I check in with her and with a heavy sigh she calls the person who is supposed to be picking the items off the shelf and she’d told they’re having trouble finding it. My patience is thin as supermodel’s shadow at high noon. so I trudge back through the towers aisles of toilets, hammers, and flashlights, until I find the wall of thermostats.
The model I ordered isn’t on the shelf. Other models, brands, and the thermostats that promise to chance your life dot the shelves, but not my humble little wi-fi model.
So I fight and claw my way back to the “Customer Service” desk, through a gauntlet of lumber cart barriers, plastic irrigation pipe mazes, and hordes of zombie-like customers scratching through a bin of screws.
When I finally get her attention, she tells me, “We don’t have the item in stock.” I mention that the online service says they have four in stock, she shrugs and says their inventory isn’t very good. Then with a very put out expression, she says, “I suppose you want a refund now?”
I used the online purchase option so I didn’t have to waste time and the items were supposedly in stock. So, while I’m at the store, I pull my phone out and open the Amazon app, and purchase the two thermostats I needed at a lower price. Oh, and next day delivery…
So, this brings me to the fiction tie in with Rob Hart’s book. In The Warehouse, a dystopian future is dominated by a single corporation and if you’re lucky enough, you get to go work and live on the Cloud. The Cloud warehouse is the hub of the online shopping world and workers are sent scurrying up shelves, and across the vast warehouse to gather the item every time a customer submits an order. You’ve seen enough of the leaked videos from Amazon’s distribution centers to get a feel for this, but imagine it on a scale a hundred times larger, with every item picked, timed, and linked to your existence on the Cloud.
I don’t want to let out too much out of the bag, but this incredible novel makes you think about what goes on behind the scenes when you tap that “Buy it Now” button. Did I just send a worker off to their doom?
Do yourself a favor and check out The Warehouse by Rob Hart. It’s Corgi approved.
As for me, I’m feeling only slightly guilty about commanding someone to go fill my next day order. I’m nice and toasty warm with my new thermostats. Oh, the last maintenance call, forgot to connect a wire in the thermostat. What happens on the Cloud…