TRIED TO RENT a trailer lately? You might want to change your mind. In fact, hereís my advice Ė just donít bother. The whole process is a metaphor for the demoralising, downward spiral that is modern automated customer service (if ever there was an oxymoron...). But how could something as simple as renting a four-by-six for an afternoon turn so ugly? Beats me, but Iíll bet London to a brick that experts were involved.
So anyway, there I am a few weeks ago, needing to move a mobility scooter. First thought was to just drive it from where it was the handful of kliks to its intended new home (that would have been a sight Ė Ed). Until I rode the bastard thing the few metres to the servo to pump up the tyres and discovered that the average mobility scoot makes a swingaxle Beetle feel planted. No wonder you see them around hospitals.
A trailer it was. So I found a service station with a few well-used looking trailers lurking out the back, went inside and asked the bloke behind the counter how Iíd go about renting the little box trailer. But instead of pulling out a triplicate A4 folder, taking my details, swiping my credit card and handing me the carbon copy of the rental agreement, he points me down the back of the shop to an electronic kiosk. And straight away, U-Haul and me are off on the wrong foot.
There was no way to compare prices of all the trailers, you had to select one first and then find out how much it was going to cost. Hmm. Then, once Iíd established that a three-hour borrow of a very second-hand six-be-four was going to cost me $43, we got to the Ďyour detailsí section where I had to supply licence, credit card and personal details including my email address, favourite colour and average rate of intercourse.
Having laboriously entered all this info via an intermittently responsive touchscreen, I then discover that the price has somehow jumped to $55. Game over. I cancel the deal and head for the door. ĎToo hardí I tell Old Mate as I pass the register. He looks back at me like this stuff happens every day. Probably does.
This user-suffers approach is not, of course, restricted to renting a rusty box trailer. Oh no, you name a service provider, and chances are itíll have switched from people to take your enquiries and accept your payments, to an automated system that requires you to navigate a flying-blind system designed and arranged by somebody who believes that online gaming is a sport.
But itís not all bad news. Nope, some of it is even worse than that. And that occurs when the same company that sacked all its front-office staffers and closed its High Street branches in favour of a robo-call centre, then turns around and contracts new people. New people to ring you up just as dinner hits the table to find out whether you want to change your service provider or billing company. Yeah, I know, why not keep the original toilers and keep you, the customer, smiling and less likely to be looking for an alternative in the first place? Again, beats me.
Of course, the next step in all of this is pretty obvious to a sharp fella like me. Iím counting down the days until my phone rings again at a completely inconvenient time and for the half-deaf bloke on the other end of the line to put it to me that I couldnít possibly be happy with my domestic power and water arrangements. Not only that, but Iíve miraculously been selected to receive a 10 per cent discount for the first month if I bundle my home loan, car rego, life insurance and Swedish website subscriptions with my gas and electricity. Nope, Iím fine. Iím also half way through mowing the lawn, so rack off and leave me alone.
ďOkay then Mr David (how do they know my name and phone number?) but if youíre working in the garden today, can I ask one more question: Can I help you out with discount trailer hire?Ē