Always Right

We Appreciate Your Patience. Welcome to Always Right, Slate’s Customer Service Blog.

“And let me tell you another thing about those wedding invitations … ”

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by iStock.

Please read carefully, as our menu options have changed. We know you have a choice of blogs, and we thank you for choosing ours. To read the introduction to Always Right, press ze—

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You no doubt remember a time terrible customer service made you snap. Perhaps your voice shook with bitter sarcasm as you dropped some wisdom on the guy at the Target returns counter. Perhaps you crafted a 1,000-word email to the customer care team at your internet service provider, only to have your internet go out and the message vanish. Perhaps—this is purely invented—you spent a full hour on the phone in a small open-plan office yelling at the people who messed up your wedding invitations, only to hang up and discover that your boss had literally prepared microwave popcorn for all your co-workers as they listened in.


But you also remember a time that good customer service made your afternoon, saved you money, rescued a vacation. Our interactions with companies, services, governments, and organizations can be dismal or delightful, enraging or enervating. Customer service is where capitalism intersects with emotion, where our self-image as very important people meets the cold, hard truths of commerce. It can inspire brand loyalty or create a lifelong enemy. (One friend still will not shop at Old Navy due to a poorly handled 1998 return; when she sees her grandchildren wearing affordable, comfortable Old Navy clothing, she feels betrayed. Her own daughter!)

In Always Right, we’ll spend the month of September exploring customer service from every angle. What makes a customer satisfied? How has satisfaction changed in the era of frictionless return-by-mail and Twitter tantrums? Are there errors so great that service can’t redeem them? And what does a company do when a valued customer is, well, totally wrong?

Today we’ll start out on the phone. Henry Grabar looks at how a minor inconvenience of the customer-care phone call, “press one for English,” became a bugaboo of the anti-immigrant right. And in “Call Center Confidential,” Aaron Mak talks to the people on the other end of the line—the customer service pros who, headsets firmly in place, deal with jerks like me all day.

Thanks for reading. Have I provided exemplary service to you today? If so, press the star key—

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