Happiness on Hold

02/10/2014 01:10 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2014

I'm on hold right now waiting for a human voice. And that gives me confidence that I will have sufficient time and content to write about this topic: my happiness while I'm on hold.

I ask myself what it would take to feel delighted as a result of my interaction with the company service representative. I want him to go beyond the script with its set pleasantries. I want him to flex his best problem-solving muscles. I want to sense his desire to help. I want an interaction that leaves me not wanting to take my business elsewhere.

He takes me off hold. The goal of my odyssey is to correct a billing error. Not only has each representative been quoting policy but quoting it inconsistently. If quoting policies is their measure of success, these representatives are exceeding every target. But I don't think that is what the CEO has in mind.

Each interaction with a business leaves us with a positive or negative impression; rarely neutral. But we don't open the Wall Street Journal and read about how a lack of smiling customers tanked a company's stock. We read about profit and loss, the big decisions and aggregate forces that led to the headline. Our smiles or burdens are imperceptibly factored in there long after our experience is over, and made visible only through our wallets.

I ask the representative to whom I can send an invoice for my time; the time I have invested to manage their problems and inconsistencies. He is confused by my request and explains that they don't have a policy to do that.

Don't get me wrong, policies are useful. They provide standards for consistency that make a business more efficient. But policies are not inert objects; they are applied by people. Policies are most acceptable when they're accompanied by I'll try to find a way to help you and least acceptable when the intention to help is obscured.

The next representative picks up the line. I am now being Ma'amed to death. Ma'aming must be one of their policies. I'm placed back on hold after the representative reads the prior representatives' accumulated notes in the system. Good thing I'm there to insert notes that have been left out. He tells me that they are all in different locations so they rely on notes in the system.

He explains that part of the problem is they have two systems which aren't "talking to each other" correctly. I'm listening intently to be assured that their system issue will be resolved without further action required by me. He's still explaining. I'm still waiting. He puts me on hold again to check on this system issue with a colleague. He's checking!

The gulf between my real experience as a customer and company's promises leaves me feeling betrayed. No amount of advertising sparkle will rebuild my trust. My moment of truth is contained in the interaction, the experience, not the screen, page or billboard. They didn't keep their promises yet their financial headlines look good for now.

My current representative rejoins the line. I dream that he has found an overlooked super-policy that mandates how company policies must be accompanied by guidelines to produce delight. Next I want him to tell me that he is personally going to follow-through with this billing issue until it is fully resolved.

Instead he tells me he has taken actions which should work and then tells me about his dinner plans with his girlfriend. I am conditionally reassured that my issue will be resolved. I am again thanked for being a valued customer... which is also a policy.

He did actually help me. Like him and his girlfriend I decided to find good sushi for dinner. His unwitting dinner suggestion reminded me that I'm not stuck. Like the tens of fish that lie before me in the glass case, I am no longer on the line. And unlike these fish, I have feet and a wallet.

Remembering that makes me at least a little happy, no policy needed.