Customer Service That’s Deplorable Even By Public Servant Standards

Dealing with the Oregon Employment Department on an issue which should have been easy to fix and kept me calm has made me so angry that I wonder what they are doing all day that is legitimate for the Oregonian taxpayer.  It’s literally like playing a game of Ping Pong that my opponent can bat the ball back at me before it even crosses the net and yet somehow have done nothing.

Full Disclosure:  The proximate cause of the issue is ultimately mostly my responsibility.  However, that only ring-fences what responses I can have.  Since we’ve gone beyond that window, its now fully in “They fucked up and don’t care to be helpful.” area.  Which means its now on.  My good friends at this point have fastened their seatbelts and gotten an extra jumbo popcorn with a million ounce Cherry Coke because they know at this stage, I will think nothing of bringing down Oregon if I have to to prove my point.

Years ago, I got an employment security overpayment that Oregon determined needed to be paid back.  Now, I’ve been horrible at doing that so its gone on longer than it should have but through various avenues, they have clawed bits and pieces of it from me that I’ve never complained about and now the debt is repaid.

That’s where this story should end – unfortunately its only just beginning.

As some readers may know, certain governmental agencies are allowed to intercept your income tax returns to pay unpaid debts to those agencies.  A little draconian on the surface but I get it.  They have to deal with people like me who never pay – so in that regard, I’m okay with it.  They handled it in a reasonable way that didn’t affect my day-to-day too much and otherwise left me alone.

This year however, Oregon submitted an intercept for one amount.  Then they submitted one immediately afterwards for a different higher amount.  I know that it was immediate because the tracking number issued by the IRS is sequential between the two.  The only communication I received from them was a letter stating the first amount.  Fine, I knew what was going on (or at least thought I did), no big deal.

Then my tax return arrives shorter than it should have been.  The IRS then followed up with a letter explaining the intercepts and how to contact the agency in question – the Oregon Employment Dept. Overpayment Recovery Unit.  This was the first time I saw these two different amounts.

So I figure out a time where I can sit and wait, ready to wait on hold interminably but to be able to at least get some satisfaction if not resolution.  The number by way is 503.947.1710.  I urge you to call it and see how long until you are pissed off.  I’d wager most of my readers would be killing people as a result well before my rage started to muster.

The automated attendant answers and states that I should wait until the end of the message to speak to an operator.  No problem still, I’m expecting all this.  The fucking message goes on for one minute and twenty-eight seconds with half of it being a repeat in Spanish.  I know better so I start mashing 0 since I know what I want to do.  Of course, Oregon doesn’t believe in letting people skip their message.

In Oregon, instead of doing the “Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish thing” and then having a phone tree to help a user navigate they give the entire message in English, then repeat it in its entirety in Spanish which has it broken down by the last digit of your social security number.  With me so far?  My last digit is 7 and common sense seems to show that I would press 7 without too many leaps in logic.  However instead of using a message as follows…

To insure your call is routed to the right person for your case, we use the last digit of your Social Security number.  For example, if your Social Security number ends in one, you would press one now or press 0 for the operator.

… they go through each number in turn.  I think even a monkey could figure out how to follow those instructions going by my standards above.  Oregon seems to believe that its citizens don’t even qualify as monkeys.  I have the impression they opine that the citizenry hasn’t developed opposable thumbs yet.  So this automated message drones on and on through each number.  Remember however, that they didn’t ask whether I wanted English or Spanish, so it goes on along immediately and repeats the God damn thing in Spanish… and nowhere along the way does my furious mashing of 0 for an operator do anything.

So far, the use of waterboarding by the CIA seems to be a mundane compared to this phone call.  Dutifully though, I pressed 7 when I could.  Instead of actually being transferred to the person – which again I am fully expecting to have to leave a message or stay on hold – I’m given a different phone number to call and then am disconnected.  There are worse things than this and being that I’d been browbeaten by the opening message for way too long, I hardly even got upset at having to do more work.

This brings me to lovely “Tabatha” at 503.947.3100 who doesn’t give me anything but a voicemail greeting that claims she’s on the phone or away.  I also discover that poor “Tabatha” (I use her names in quotations for a reason which I will give in a moment) is not only in charge of 7 but also 3!  Her message goes on for one minute and seventeen seconds but all in all has information that common sense wouldn’t necessarily have provided so I let it go.  “Tabatha” tells me to leave my name, phone number, social security number and brief message and she will get back to me as soon as she can, most likely within 24 hours.

My internal timer begins at this point.  The moment recorded was around noon on Wednesday, 11 February.  Since it’s a busy season for them, I concede that by end of business on Friday seemed reasonable to me.

Friday comes and goes with no peep from “Tabatha”.  Not even a single attempt to get ahold of me to verify my story nor trying to let me vent while filing her nails and shopping on ebay.  Just nothing.  The weekend goes by.  Monday goes by.

Finally, on Tuesday (17 February), a voicemail is left by “Kathleen” (who isn’t “Tabatha” and I have no idea who the fuck she is).  This would have been the perfect opportunity for them to hamstring me by just saying why they were calling and if I had questions to return phone.  What I got was “Kathleen” and please call back the first number I mentioned above (with the minute and a half message) but doesn’t say whether I need to talk to “Tabatha” or to any other person specifically.

I assumed that they were just refunding the overage to me and so I let it go and decided a week was going to be the point I’d call back if I hadn’t received anything.  To my surprise, a check came the very next day.  To my even less surprise, it was for an amount less than I was expecting and had zero other paperwork explaining what it was for.

I’m getting annoyed by this point but not enough to run home and deal with it.  It was put on the To Do list for this week.  I call the first number today (25 February), sit through the entire minute and a half again, press 0 since logic seemed to show that based on the voicemail message “Kathleen” left and get …. what sounds like a human voice translated into modem chatter and then run through a flanger.  No idea if it was an real person or another message, but either way, I was getting nowhere fast.

Critical mass had now been reached and so Chernobyl (that’s what my rage is called) happened.  I call “Tabatha” at her number – sitting through her stupid minute and fifteen second message and go ape shit (aka Diva for my gay readers).  I gave shade for over three minutes – demanding no less than access to the Director of the department and questioning whether her job description was actually blank implying that was why no one answered or took a week to do so.

And told her she could get my social security and other information when she called back.

That was around 3pm and I left an ultimatum of 5pm to call me back and if I didn’t answer to give a phone number that a human answers first.

While I may have been part of the original problem, Oregon and “Tabatha” and “Kathleen” are absolutely being worse than zero – not an in elegant negative number way but in a blackhole way – in fixing what has become so much their problem that I’m considering legal action for wasting my time and the taxpayer’s money.  I will update this as the story concludes (or unfolds further) as it happens and posting the link to this entry to @oregonemploy and to @Oregonian.

There isn’t any excuse I can come up with that explains why the standard operating procedure of a public agency is this bad.  My case is pretty simple and I shudder at what hassle people with larger issues have to go through.

UPDATE:  In the past two weeks since I wrote this blog, I have called and left two more messages for “Tabatha” and received no responses.  Since there is no way to get a human to actually answer when I call, I am now sending an email to the Director’s office.

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