Jon Dawson: Customer service isn’t dead, it just smells funny

Photo by Yan Krukov on

Frank Zappa once told a reporter that jazz wasn’t dead, it just smelled funny. This wasn’t a swipe at jazz, but a sad commentary on its standing in the culture. I believe this can also be said for customer service.

Usually, the customer is always right, until they’re not.

The guy that habitually showed up 30 seconds before closing with his entire family in tow really needed a couple of weeks at Gitmo. I once saw him pull into the parking lot and managed to get the front door locked before he got in. He kept knocking and waving while the entire staff pretended the knocking noise was a wayward woodpecker.

After 10 minutes of this, our manager called the cops and told them some crazy man was trying to break in. When the police showed up, they had a brisk conversation with Mr. Timex and he went on his way.

Bannister’s Fine Gifts is located at 106 West Railroad Street in La Grange.

Having worked in a restaurant, I’m an extremely good customer. Unless the waitress is doing a line of cocaine off of her shoulder while pouring my water, I’m not usually one to complain. That being said, when I took Tax Deduction #2 out for Daddy/TD time on Saturday, I nearly ended up in the police blotter.

The day before our excursion took place, I stopped by the object of TD #2’s desire to see what time it opened. According to the hours posted on the door, they opened at 9 a.m. on Saturday. To be sure this was the case, I went in and asked someone if the hours posted on the door were current, which — after a few blank stares — resulted in a “yeah.” To recap — the door states 9 a.m. and the staff states 9 a.m. This will be important later.

On Saturday morning, we headed out for breakfast and then to our destination. We reached Mecca at 9:15 a.m. only to find the doors locked. I peered inside and knocked on the door a few times; an employee arrived after me and went around to the front and a few minutes later someone unlocked the door and let us in — at 9:17 a.m.

Instead of asking the staff person if they were on some sort of new quasi-daylight savings time that caused them to be 17 minutes behind the rest of the universe, I stood mute. Not wanting TD No. 2’s last memory of me to be berating a slack attendant before stroking out, I just took a deep breath and soldiered on.

Avoid the box store blues with a visit to Blizzard Building Supply, located at 405 Walson Avenue, Kinston.

Unbeknownst to me, the seemingly straightforward activity we were going to partake in relied on a computer system of the Cape Canaveral variety — a computer that no one had even turned on at 9:17 a.m. At this point, I’m looking around the facility for something to steal.

At 9:27 a.m., the computer finally juices up and we’re ready to go. TD#2 had a good time and never realized how close her father was to either a massive cerebrovascular incident or a misdemeanor charge of larceny. My belief that no real good can come from leaving the house is reinforced and we go on about our day.

On Sunday when I try to get online to see if any of you folks have made naughty comments on that warrant deletion, my Internet connection isn’t working. My first call to customer service was less successful than Kanye West’s Oak Ridge Boys audition. I kept trying to tell the customer service rep that I was calling about Internet service, but she kept trying to upgrade my cell phone.

“Would you like to upgrade your phone service to include Canada and Saturn?” she asked.

Wishing I had an old-school phone that could be slammed down, I ended the call and tried again. This time, a man named Ernest answered the phone — and changed my life.

Ernest spent the subsequent hour trying to help me resuscitate the blinking-but-not-functioning modem. While we waited for the computer to shut down and restart several times, we got to know each other pretty well.

In a voice that was a cross between actor Yaphet Kotto and jazz critic Stanley Crouch, Ernest told me he was from Greensboro. After a stint in the military, he took a job with Sprint in Texas. I told him I was headed to Greensboro for a concert in November. Our meeting was a clear-cut case of kismet, which ironically is also the name of a network detector for … wireless internet modems.

Eventually, Ernest’s shift ended, but he suggested I download the previous version of the modem’s software.

“My shift was over a few minutes ago,” Ernest said. “But I’m back on tonight at 8 p.m., so I’ll call back and see if it worked.” I was a bit shocked to encounter this level of commitment from a technician working at a faraway call center, but it was nice. THEN, Ernest called back to make sure I knew 8 p.m. for him meant 9 p.m. for me.

“I just didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten to call back,” Ernest said.

Usually, I find men repulsive, but I’ll admit — at this point — I was a little bit in love with Ernest.

I drive to my folks’ house, download the previous software to a flash drive, bring it home, install it and the modem comes back to life. A few questionable comments waiting for approval are removed from the website and life is good — until I realize that it’s 9:12 p.m. and my phone is in the car.

I retrieve the phone and sure enough, I missed Ernest’s call at 9:07 p.m. For the next half hour, I call every Sprint number on this and any other earth trying to track down Ernest in the Texas call center.

Finally, I reach a Brooklyn transplant in the Texas call center. I tell him I’m looking for Ernest to thank him for his amazing service. Mr. Brooklyn then makes everybody within earshot of him stop talking and tells them who I’m looking for and why, and a few of them start clapping. A few minutes later, Ernest and I are reunited on the phone while “Chariots of Fire” plays in the background.

I told Ernest I was going to write about him and asked for an email address so I could forward it along. If you’re Ernest’s boss or the person in charge of the purse strings, please give this man a raise and actively recruit any of his offspring.

Jon Dawson’s books are available at

The Bryan Hanks Show airs on 960-AM in Kinston, and daily at 7 a.m. & 3 p.m. It also airs on the suite of stations in New Bern and Greenville (107.5-FM) at 6 p.m. Archives of the show can be found at

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