By BASIMA AL-ENEZI
Translated from the Arabic by SAWAD HUSSAIN
Even not-happily-ever-after endings are preceded by a certain amount of speculation about what is to come. As a matter of course, all the important changes in organizational structure and relevant administrative decisions take place on the last Thursday of each month, ushered in by a few days heavy with anticipation and flare-ups among the employees.
Sabah sits in front of the computer screen, Americano in hand, trying to concisely respond to customer queries.
Dear Sirs of Golden Track,
Firstly, I would like to point out that I’m a longtime customer of yours, since 1998 in fact. From even before your competitors appeared on the scene.
Over the years, I haven’t received a single phone call or text message that made me feel appreciated.
This is the first time that I’m registering an official complaint after having called customer service several times. Certainly, your employees are courteous and pleasant enough, but they never have any solutions at the ready. They’re just a useless link in the chain of communication informing you that your complaint has been heard by someone.
I commented on your Instagram account and received no response, except for the standard one you send anyone who complains about your service:
We’ll be in touch with you as soon as possible for more details.
What happened to your company? Ever since you moved away from your old system, everyone has noticed things falling apart, even though we, your clients, are not meant to be aware of your internal matters.
A simple request: complaint #885 needs your attention.
* * *
We apologize for the delay in responding. We are currently working on your request and will be in contact as soon as possible.
* * *
Dear Gentlemen of Golden Track Company,
A week has passed and I have yet to hear anything regarding complaint #885. Is it reasonable that you require months to fix a bug in your new system? It’s most annoying that customer complaints are disregarded so blatantly. This does not bode well for your global brand.
I look forward to your response.
* * *
Dear Sirs of Tarnished Track Company,
I find it hard to believe that your enormous corporation doesn’t have a single department dedicated to customer satisfaction. How can there be a for-profit company that ignores the concerns of their target audience, their source of profit? You have hundreds of employees marketing your services, yet you don’t have a single individual who has the experience to help us find a solution. What’s the point of this email address if we just keep going round and round in this vicious cycle?
* * *
My name is Sabah, and this is my last day of work.
I’ll now respond to your emails, which express your extreme dissatisfaction with our services —falling apart, as you said—in the hope that you will calm down a bit.
We used to have a department that would measure customer satisfaction, but the department became a small box on our website instead, containing a questionnaire which you can respond to with the utmost honesty.
Whether you are satisfied or disgruntled, you may stop buying what we have on offer at any time. To be frank, even if we lose you as a customer, what difference would it make to our company? Even if you went to our competitor, rest assured that you would be sucked into the same downward spiral. There isn’t much of a difference between global corporations when it comes to customer satisfaction!
Seeing as you’ve been a customer of ours for many years, you must know that our relationship is like any other, that you’ll stick with us through thick and thin, the good times and the bad. You mentioned that you were satisfied with our services before we changed our system.
In the end, your “billing error” problem will be resolved—in fact, a large number of people have had the same issue due to a technical glitch found a few months ago.
I wish you a lovely rest of day.
* * *
Dearest Sir or Madam Sabah,
I’m shocked at the decline in your service quality and at your unprofessional response. It seems like your company has lost its balance. I’m not sure why you lost your job exactly, but it’s undeniable that you’re not suited for it.
You have finally acknowledged that you are aware of my problem, and that it’s not just me who is affected. It’s simply preposterous that I find this out from an employee feeling generous on their last day of work, and furthermore that there is no specific date for resolving my issue.
I await further details.
* * *
Dear Longstanding But Annoyed Customer,
My departure after five years on the job wasn’t by choice. It seems that you’re the nosy type who likes to keep tabs on other people’s lives—the type of person who holds up the line at the bank with all your questions for the teller, the one who sucks up all of the doctor’s time at the clinic, the one who goes back and forth with salesmen until you have the last word.
And since it’s my last day, I’ll brighten yours with some insider information: the machine—at the entrance—that they bought from China is the reason for my being let go. A technological marvel that is meant to provide solutions quickly and accurately, capable of completing 9,008 transactions per day, more than the combined work rate of thirteen employees. Our clients from the younger age bracket will be the ones to use it the most. It won’t appeal much to people like you in their fifties.
Their supposedly foolproof strategy is to move all our services to online platforms, and this began some years ago. As such, the old system was replaced—which you think is the reason for all your problems today. It’s actually a step in the right direction—or so they say—that will be followed by further steps: short-term pain for long-term gain. The real question is: Do they even know where they are headed?
I wish you a restful week, free of complaining.
* * *
Dearest Sir or Madam Sabah,
I’m not concerned with your internal affairs, and I’m hardly the nosy type. I’ve had a complaint unattended for months. How can such an established and global company that calls itself pioneering not be interested in hearing their customers’ opinions on their services after purchasing them?
I’m truly at a loss for words. Your racetrack is only fit for turtles, and your technology is deceptive.
* * *
In this final hour of my last day, I assure you that a solution is on the way. The problem of the new system is flanked by other problems. You’ve got to just remain calm. Trust that they’ll find a solution.
In life, of course, unfortunate things happen, like being laid off, your child falling sick, your parents dying, but here you are making a mountain out of nothing. Your problem becomes the center of your universe, and whatever you’re demanding is the priority. You’re a victim, a victim of meaningless events fueled by your interactions with people. An error in a bill, a car breaking down, cold food delivered to your door….
Any company would have to recruit an army of competent employees to absorb your fury and respond quickly enough to your abrupt inquiries, inquiries that grow in number from someone caring enough to read them. Enough is enough! Our employees are busy marketing new products, impressive and profitable ones. The alternative to our human resources is our online channel, where you won’t find anyone to pat you on the shoulder or console you with a word of apology.
The wrong amount of money that was taken from you isn’t any more than what your son would pay for a late-night takeout. This amount of money—which will most certainly be returned to you—will not make any difference to your long day, while your numerous complaints and your insistence that we resolve them are not only irritating but, more importantly, a waste of our time!
I’m so happy that tomorrow I won’t have to reply to sour customers such as yourself, apologizing and sounding like a broken record.
* * *
Sir or Madam Sabah,
First off, I do not have any children!
Secondly, no matter what the amount is, my drawing attention to your repeated mistakes and asking them to be corrected should be met with a word of thanks instead of insults.
You think the amount is trivial, and so you are blaming the customer (me) for my impatience, but if the tables were turned and your company were demanding this amount from me, you would have cut off my service immediately, without a second thought.
Thirdly, I’m shocked by your sarcastic and rude responses. I hope your future job isn’t in the customer service field. Your apology doesn’t hold any water if it isn’t followed up by some sort of corrective action.
I’m going to forward all your previous emails to the CEO of the company, and if I don’t get the desired response, then I’ll post them all on social media, the place where the truth of your services, or lack thereof, will come to light.
* * *
Sabah gets up from her chair and takes a last look at the desks that employees now share according to their flexible working hours. On her arm is a navy cotton jacket that fights against the chill of the year-round air conditioning on the fourth floor.
She has completed her exit procedures: handing in her work ID and her health insurance card, after which her email account will be deleted, her employee number will disappear, her access to the company’s systems will be blocked, and the electronic doors will no longer recognize her face.
It is the done thing for her to send a farewell email to her colleagues, a message that should include tender words of gratitude to those who shared in her journey. But before anyone could compliment her hard work and wish her success, her email and all its content—important as well as minor in consequence—what she saw as her company history etched into the ether, will be erased, along with the log of tasks completed in the days gone by.
She comes down from the fourth floor to acknowledge those whom she knows, the way one does at the end of a long flight, bidding farewell to the nice person seated next to you on the plane.
She glances at the new device by the entrance. Complaints pile up, and the remaining staff try to fend off the wave of grumbling with shields of patience.
She exits the building and fades into a former entity who will be remembered by none, save the tables in the cafeteria and the mirror in the elevator.
As soon as she exits the gate leading onto the main street, even before her car sets off, she will shift from an employee into a customer, a new actor weaving her own new history with the global corporation known as Golden Track.
Basima al-Enezi is a novelist and short story writer from Kuwait who also publishes literary articles in Kuwaiti newspapers. She has won several local and Arab awards, including the Kuwaiti State Award for the Short Story and the Arab Women of the Year Award in Literature, in addition to being honored by the Gulf Cooperation Council in the field of literature in the same year. She serves as a judge on a number of literary award committees.
Sawad Hussain is an Arabic translator; her work has been recognized by English PEN, The Anglo-Omani Society, and the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize. She is a judge for the Palestine Book Awards and the National Translation Award in Prose in 2023. Her upcoming translations include Edo’s Souls, by Stella Gaitano.