Misogynist 0; Activist 2

Yes, we are useful.

We’ve recently had incredibly bad luck with our various means of connecting with the rest of the world. In our dealings with customer service representatives and repairmen, we’ve been amazed at just how misogynistic and condescending some of these individuals continue to be.

To be fair, customer service is not exactly understood in precisely the same way here in Finland as it is in the US for example. Almost a year ago, I had an unfortunate experience with one of my formerly favorite local yarn shops when a pair of knitting needles I know to be guaranteed for life had an obvious flaw, rendering their continued use impossible. After exchanging emails with the European headquarters, I received not just one but three replacement sets and the store no longer enjoys my patronage (their loss, given just how much I had previously spent in that particular store). It amazed me at the time, however, how utterly unconcerned the manager was with pleasing a customer and a regular one, and how brazenly she showed her contempt for me as a customer merely wishing to exchange an obviously flawed product.

Perhaps then I shouldn’t have been as surprised by recent experiences with our internet and mobile service provider. I certainly wasn’t expecting outright contempt and disdain. Nor was I expecting to be treated as a technology neophyte who didn’t understand how to turn on a machine let alone discuss the possibilities regarding what had gone wrong in any meaningful and intelligent way. That is, I was expecting to be treated as an equal. Not an idiot.

First, our normally insanely fast cable internet failed us miserable over a one-week period. This is virtually unheard of in Finland, a country which considers access to broadband connections a fundamental human right. In the various calls I made to our provider, I was told it was a) a building-wide problem; b) a network issue that had been sorted; c) they had no idea but would send a repairman anyway; and d) all of the above.

My patience wore out completely when, during our fourth for fifth consecutive call, the unhelpful twit at the other end of the line told me to simply reset the modem, and then proceeded to explain to me what a modem was. (At that point, my husband sensing I was about to go postal took the phone and explained to said twit that we are not neophytes to technology, thank you very much.)

The first of two repairmen arrived, tested the modem, the wall fitting and the cables, and came up with the explanation that it was a problem with the splitter. Fine. But, why the smirk and smugness? He then said a previous technician misspoke and there had not been building-wide problem. It was only a problem in our flat. That evening, our internet connection was lost again.

Given how reliant we both our on our internet service for, you know, our work and livelihoods, this gave us serious reason to consider switching providers. Our next phone call was not to technical support but to customer service. For the first time in this ordeal, we received ‘customer service’. Another repairman arrived, carefully checked everything, told us that the previous repairman had been out of line and explained what and why he was doing everything. He did not speak to either of us as if we were beneath him, but as if we were equals and partners. In other words, we felt he was concerned for our experience and that he wanted nothing more than to help fix the problem. He also reassured us that he would check various things out for the building, since obviously nothing was awry in our flat. Since then, our internet connection has been stable.

Fast forward to yesterday.

Our mobile phone service is provided by the same company as our internet service, although the accounts are separate. For the most part, we’ve had very little to complain about in relation to 3G services. The only thing better than internet connections in Finland is the mobile phone service. Data transfer is free and unlimited, our monthly service fees are a pittance, and coverage is available everywhere. It’s incredible really. (I’ll refrain from mentioning roaming fees; they suck for everyone in the EU.)

That said, I’ve been having issues with a connector cable for my lovely Samsung Galaxy S III, which is a relatively recent addition to my gadget collection. If the cable isn’t positioned just so, it won’t charge. Not exactly a great thing to have go wrong with your phone. I suspect it is a problem with the cable’s connector, and just need a replacement.

Armed with my phone, cable, the original box and receipt, I visited one the many sales and service points for my mobile service provider. I’ve been to this shop on several occasions, and whilst it is normally quite busy given it’s location, the staff are generally quite friendly and helpful. Not yesterday. Not at all.

First, Snarky Boy, as he is now known, told me that the cable wouldn’t work when connected to a computer since there wasn’t enough ‘power’. (Then, why did it work just fine up until a week or so ago? And, why does it not work any better when plugged into the wall?) Then, he tried to tell me that it wouldn’t charge now because it was completely charged. (Really? Then, why when we got to settings and to the battery settings in particular does it show the charge at 65%?) Upon learning that the phone would then need to go to repair (‘even though there is nothing wrong with it’), I asked about what I would do for a phone whilst mine was in repair. ‘Well, I don’t know what you will do while your phone in is for repair,’ in a voice which was dripping with disdain, contempt and a ‘not my problem’ attitude. (I learned later from a friend and via the company’s website that if your phone requires service, the company gives you a loaner until you get your phone back. This was never mentioned at all by Snarky Boy.)

What was even more disconcerting given this entire experience was the attitude not just of Snarky Boy, but of his colleague. The two exchanged several glances during the above exchange and, at one point, the other employee laughed. He sat in his chair with another customer and laughed.

Utterly pissed off and fed up, I asked for Snarky Boy’s name, packed up and left. His parting question was, ‘Don’t you want your phone to go for repair?’ My response was simply, ‘I’m not dealing with you nor this store. I will call customer service to explain to them a) what has happened here and b) what the issue is to get it sorted.’

Customer service again came through. Perhaps it was speaking with another woman, but…she was helpful, kind, apologetic, and interested in solving my particular problem with a minimum of fuss and hassle. She took the time to make note of Snarky Boy’s name, the store I visited and the approximate time events occurred, and reassured me that some sort of reprimand would be issued. She also checked with her supervisor to make sure she knew how it would be handled before ending our call. My confidence in my provider was restored, needless to say.

Will it make a difference? Probably not. But, maybe it will. And, maybe, if more people would stand up to this sort of behavior, things would change. Ultimately, if we all want a world free of misogyny, then we must take a stand, confront it as it occurs, and demand better treatment, whether it is directed at us or at those around us.

One thing is certain: if we remain silent, the misogynist wins.

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