11 July 2005
What Do You Mean?
In this marketing-saturated era, we're bombarded with expressions that actually mean the opposite of what they say. Nowhere is this hypocrisy more prevalent than in the responses we get from "Customer Service" departments, sometimes laughably called "Customer Care." For example, the recorded telephone message insisting that "Your call is important to us" clearly means "We don't care what you think, so why don't you stop bothering us." (If our call really was important to them, they wouldn't park us on interminable hold, hoping we'll get discouraged and hang up.) My theory is that the downgrading of customers began when the financial media started referring to them as "consumers." This institutional term--as in Consumer Price Index--replaced the more personal word "customer," with its suggestion of a living, breathing person who goes to the store to buy something and often knows the store owner. Now, our value has been reduced to that of spending units, whose purchases will be tallied electronically and published (or posted) in charts, tables, and graphs to help marketers sell us more crap we don't need.