Customer service is hard. I know this. One of my jobs had substantial customer service responsibilities. Moreover, I was a supervisor, so not only did I have to deal with irate people whose anger had grown because my employees could not manage the situation, but I had to find a way to solve the problem as well.

When you work customer service, no one calls you to thank you or tell you that they really enjoy your product or that they think your people are great. They call because they need something, because something broke, because they need something fixed, because they're angry and they want something to assuage their anger.

Great customer service reps are already halfway to earning their wings.

However, this in no way excuses bad customer service.

To be fair, when you call a customer line needing some help, you need to understand that the person with whom you're speaking probably does not have the ability to solve your problem directly. They may have the ability to schedule an appointment or send someone to help you out, but they don't normally have the leeway to solve your problem directly and remedy your situation when you have had to deal with egregious circumstances. So when you're all angry and talking to someone who unfortunately makes minimum wage on the other end, cut them some slack. They have a thankless job.

But they don't have a blank check to do their job poorly.

Let's talk about my computer. I own an Hewlett-Packard notebook that I bought, with the extended three-year warranty, over the summer in preparation for law school. It's a great computer, and while it has given me a number of headaches since last summer, on the whole I have been relatively pleased with the performance of the machine. Until the computer just suddenly stopped receiving AC power.

I place my call to HP and start get the ball rolling. After going through some questions with me, the rep tells me that I probably broke a pin on the connection and that I would have to send it in to a price tag of about $300. I tell her that I have the warranty package, and she responds that since this is physical damage that I caused by negligence, my warranty will not cover the situation. Yep, clearly this one was caused by negligence, especially when I baby my computer (since, as I learned over the last two and a half weeks, it seems the integral parts of my life wrap themselves to this machine). Moreover, the fact that I had spent over TWO HOURS working on my computer off AC power without moving it before it inexplicably went to battery clearly indicates I caused physical damage. Anyway, I argued about it with the rep for a while, but I understood her point when she said she had no way of verifying if my story was true. Shitty luck for me, but I really needed my computer, so after going through my options with her, I decided to send it in, principally because I knew they would have the expertise to fix the problem and the fact that she promised me it would be back in my hands within 3-5 business days. I later found that they had made a commitment to me to have it from my hands to them back to me within 72 hours. I did have to bite the bullet, but with a promise of that kind of rapid service, I decided to go for it.

I got my computer back earlier this week, two and a half weeks after I sent it to HP.

On the fourth business day, after the 72 hour period had passed, I called HP to ask where the hell my computer was. The young man with whom I talked informed me that HP had a ship date of 2/7, which had already passed, and he gave me a FedEx tracking number and said if I had a problem I would need to take it up with FedEx. The tracking number he had given me was for the package I sent to HP. Not the return package. So I call back the next day, more that a little miffed. This time the guy took the time to actually look at my records and figure out where my computer sat.

Problem was, he couldn't find that out. He didn't know where my computer sat or what the status of the repair was.

Noting that the commitment date for HP to return my machine to me had long passed, he told me would file a certain form that would, in his terms, light a fire under some one to find it, fix it and get it back to me. At this point however, I'm really not too happy. I understand this man is not to blame, but I want to trace the problem to a source. I want to know why I have spent the last week sitting in the computer lab every night working on my motion until midnight instead of working in the relaxed confines of my apartment. I want to know the reason why I had to continue postponing sending letters to local employers in search of a job.(Just for the record, I got two responses to my very late letters today; both firms had recently filled their summer positions.) So I ask this guy how I find out the reason for the dealy when HP fills out this action report and answers for the responsibility of getting my machine back to me. He responds that he needs to file this report and that report will cause someone to go figure out the problem. So I rephrase my question, stating that I understand someone has to file this report, but that once someone filled out the report, I should have a way to find out the disposition of the report. He responds that he has to file this report. We do this dance another time or two before he says this to me:

Listen, you have to listen to me. You're not paying attention to what I'm saying. Blah blah...-

I immediately jumped all over him. You see, you don't insult a customer. Ever. Even if he's a friggin' moron. The customer is NOT always right, but he's never wrong either. The guy then spent the rest of the time trying to recover, claiming that sometimes he just speaks like that. I was unconvinced. And he still couldn't answer my question about how I could find out what had happened to my computer. Finally, after I had been on the phone with him for about 45 minutes, I just couldn't take it any more and gave up.

That night I went back to the computer lab to finish my paper and to send a few emails to HP expressing my extreme dissatisfaction. One to the general customer service address, one to the CEO of HP. In both emails I explained that I understand things go wrong sometimes and when this happens we don't always have the immediate ability to remedy the situation. However, I also understand that in customer service, you NEVER make a promise to a customer unless you have a strong certainty that you can meet this promise. And under no circumstances is it permissible to make a promise, renege on a promise, and not notify the customer that this foul up has happen. You simply don't do it. Given that HP had made a promise to me on which I depended when making my decision to send them my computer and pay them a hefty sum to fix it, that they had not met their promise, and most egregiously, that they had taken no efforts to notify me of their inability to meet their responsibility, I felt justified in requesting that HP refund the service fee to my credit card.

The customer service email address answered me first, claiming that they were very sorry this had happened and that the person writing (whose name escapes me) had taken a personal interest in my situation and would personally see that my computer was expeditiously fixed and shipped. Unfortunately, the email said, HP could not refund my money. The email concluded that if I had any more questions, to respond to the email and the sender would respond personally. I responded by saying I understood and I appreciated this interest, and while perhaps refunding my money might be a little much, I still feel that given the poor treatment I had received and HP's clear disregard of my customer satisfaction that HP needed to remedy my situation in some other way than an apology.

In the week since I sent this, I have received no response.

I have my computer back, it works, and I have pretty much put my life back in order. I had a job interview today and three more in the next week, so that's looking up.

But HP, this isn't over. I'm not going to roll over that easily. You cannot ignore me like this. The first thing I'm going to do is publish for all my readers to see what a shitty job of customer service you've done. Then I'm going to call your ass up this weekend, when my life finally gives me a reprieve, and take it to task until someone gives me an adequate response.

Wait for it, bitch. Wait for it.