Headmaster's Thoughts: April 2021

All right, dear readers, let us get back to normal…the one where I get to be a curmudgeon. It has been too many months since I have been able to just complain through this wonderful vehicle of communication: my “Thoughts”.  In the not so recent past, I have complained about the cost of a small bottle of water in airports ($4.08), indicated the fact that the British Royal Family are nothing but the heirs to warlords, and worried about signs over toilets in railroad cars. So let me catch up by moaning about the menus that companies make you go through, after you try a simple phone call for help.
I hope you notice that if you call our school during the week, from 7:30 am until 4:30 pm, a charming lady will answer your call and help you if she can, or else direct you to a person who is the right party to help. I do not know another school that does this, but, since I despise calls that are answered with any menu, the last thing that will go at York is that bright, personal touch when a call comes in.
I want to give you an example of the dark side. I thought that we might consider Dyson humidifying and air cleaning machines for school. We tried two types out. After about three weeks, one of the trial machines indicated that it needed cleaning with citric acid. So I bought citric acid and cleaned it according to instructions. Unfortunately, the machine could not get out of the cleaning mode. It was stuck, being forever cleaned, and would not go back to humidifying and cleaning the air. As a result, we bought other air cleaning machines for the classrooms, ones that did not include humidifying.
I called Dyson about the machine that would not work. First mistake!  It took half an hour to get through. This was at 7:30 pm Eastern Standard Time. Boring, repetitive music interrupted by announcements of “Thank you for your patience, your call is important to us but….we are experiencing a heavy call volume.”  Eventually, I got through to…menus; four menus in sequence to be precise, none of which were particularly easy to navigate. Certainly one had to have persistence to get through to a live person for help. At last (I pride myself on my tenacity), I reached a real person. I asked for help. Unfortunately, I could not understand the answer. The live person, in my case, was a lady in a far, far, land. When I asked, she said she was in Asia. Large continent! After misunderstanding each other, I asked for a supervisor. Immediately I received the same boring music, more “thank you for your patience…” for another 15 minutes. And I then reached another lady who, again, either could not help or could not express that help in a language I could understand. It could be my fault. Who knows? There certainly was a language barrier. I asked where she was, and she said South America. Large continent! I asked her name. She told me: “Maria”. How many Marias are there in South America?  Anyway, I gave up and left the machine, and a week later turned it on and, magically, it worked.
Three weeks go past, and the machine once again indicated that it needed cleaning. I cleaned it and, you may not be surprised to know that, once again, it would not go back to cleaning and humidifying the air as it was supposed to do. So, trying to avoid the menu phone call, I sent Dyson Service Department an e-mail. I got a courteous e-mail back explaining that “due to the volume of e-mails it would take several days to resolve the problem. Thank you for your patience.” Hmmm! Back to the telephone!  I was graced with another half an hour of more dreary music with “thank you for your patience, but due to the heavy volume…”. This was a little earlier than before but still in the early evening. When do they not have a heavy volume? Again, I went through four menus. Eventually, Kindall picked up the phone on their end, and he spoke English perfectly (good news), but could not immediately help me with the problem (bad news). He asked for the serial number of the machine. You should know that the serial number of this machine is in tiny letters under the machine. So you have to lift it up (it is quite heavy and, of course, had water in it). You will need a magnifying glass. With Jayme’s help, I found the serial number, and also got a lot of water on the floor. Kindall asked me to hold while he checked the number. More of the same boring music played, interrupted again by “Thank you for your patience…”. He came back in about 10 minutes. He confirmed that I had bought the machine and had my name. Good! Unfortunately, he had no solution. So he suggested that I send the machine back. How? Well, since I did not keep the box, that would be my problem. I should, he said, take it to a UPS store and get a reference number and then they would give me a tracking number. Then I would call them (another half hour with four menus?) with that tracking number and they would send a replacement machine. The whole thing, at best, would take a week.
Two minutes after I got off the phone with Kindall, I received an automated call from Dyson asking me how my experience was with their service. The call offered no option to really talk to someone but just give points from one to five. It was a series of menus in which I had to rank their replies to my pleas for help.  I wish I could have put them on hold for half an hour and given them some boring and repetitive music (and thanked them for their patience but I was “having a heavy phone call volume of people asking me for my opinion at the moment”) but there was no “them”, just an automatic recording.
We sent back the machine and received a tracking number from UPS. I called Dyson to tell them this number, because this is what they wanted before they would send me a new machine. I got a lady who was more specific. To her credit, she spoke excellent English. In a moment of enthusiasm, I asked where she was speaking from. She was, I quote, in “South East Asia”. Fairly large area! She even gave me her name. It sounded like Phalaenopsis. I am a fan of Rex Stout, and I knew that as a variety of orchids that Nero Wolfe, his detective character, grew. She could not, however, help me, and put me on hold for a supervisor. More minutes of music elapsed, along with more thank yous for my patience. Eventually, I got Michelle who told me she was at their American plant, and, drum roll please, I discovered that she knew what she was talking about. The problem, she explained, was that the water container has electrical contacts on the top, and when they are wet, the machine thinks it is still in cleaning mode. They had just discovered this design flaw. If I had known that, I would have dried the top of the water container. Too late because the machine was on its way back!
I was interested as to when, exactly, Dyson did not have an extra high volume of calls, so I experimented (I warned you that I was a tenacious curmudgeon). I discovered that they have this “unusual high volume of calls” in the morning (7:00 am), at noon (literally), and at night because I called at all of those hours. There must be an army of people calling Dyson all the time.  I also discovered that any time you send any sort of e-mail to their service department you get the same reply, to the effect that they have a high volume of service e-mails and will get back within 48 hours. If you only send a question mark, you get that e-mail. I sent three question marks in three e-mails in a row just to prove this to be true.
To sum up, the machine is in transit and I will not get a replacement for a week. But, to be fair, I did speak to three ladies in far distant continents, although where exactly in those far distant continents I cannot say. I did listen to boring music with occasional interruptions thanking me for my patience, and I got through menus that I find dehumanizing. At least, on every occasion, I was assured that my call was important to them.
The most important thing is that I feel so much better writing this for you. I am sorry that you may not feel better in reading it. I suggest we all write blogs. Let us complain and, like the Peter Finch newscaster in “Network”, agree that we are “not going to take it anymore!”
Now you know why, as a community, we will have someone answer your calls in person. Any call about a child is important to a parent, and who wants to have to guess the right menu number while searching for the solution to a concerning issue? This should not be interpreted as a specific attack on Dyson, but an attack on the way large companies handle service calls. Maybe some companies are too large? I now go out of my way to patronize local small businesses. For example, we have a very nice pharmacist around the corner: Thomas Drugs. They know their customers and are happy to see us. Ring up Thomas’ and their pharmacist will answer the phone. Let us not lose these local businesses! They truly make us feel that our calls are “important”.
One day the humidifying/air-cleaning machine will come back. And it will work. And then it will need cleaning. Maybe next time, I will get someone in the Antipodes.
Ronald P. Stewart
York Prep