Computer failure an eye-opener
US-style privatization won't fix ills of Israeli public service
Whenever I arrive in the US and require the services of one of the corporations that symbolize the efficient and thriving US market, I begin to long for the services of the Israeli National Insurance Institute, the Tel Aviv Municipality, or even the post office in the era when it took us days to report a telephone malfunction.
Last week, my computer died. When my resuscitation attempts, my tickling of its sensitive spots, and desperate calls to friends in Tel Aviv all failed, I had to find a local technician who could provide me with a new motherboard.
Being merely two miles from Wall Street, I believed that "market forces" would harness their horses and come galloping to my rescue, trying hard to beat the competition and take some of my cash for a 15-minute job. The pros I called all promised to check in on my computer in two weeks, vowing that all will (perhaps) be fixed in four weeks.
This free-market failure made it clear again that the Finance Ministry officials who suggest that all the wrongs of the Israeli public service can be fixed through privatizing anything - from the employment services to correctional facilities - either never set foot outside Israel, or are taking their college "Economics 1" introductory course much too seriously.
At this point, I tried to contact the company that gave life to my precious computer by phone. Endless automated menus praised me for my patience and flattered me saying howimportant the call was to them. Elation swept me every time a human voice rang in my ear, only to pass me on to the right department.
Hours of soothing music eased my talks with a Jerry here and a Linda there, only to start my telephone voyage all over again. Jerry or Linda promised someone would be coming to help me tomorrow, but it never happened. Actually, their names did not matter, because you can never get the service agent you talked to back on the line once that record starts playing.
I was reminded of my basic training days, where I was helpless in the face of huge impersonal forces. There was a time when I knew how to beat the system. I used to ask the service agent to get me his supervisor, but after other wise guys learned the trick, my method stopped working. I would either get disconnected along the way, or the supervisor would be even less attentive.
In the past, I also used to wield "doomsday" weapons and threaten that I would cross the street and talk to the competition, but they were never impressed. I even felt guilty for harassing some poor fellow from Ohio or Tennessee.
It was on my 23rd call that things changed. The service agent suddenly found out that I was assigned to the wrong queue. I was deeply moved. I told her she saved my life and praised her for being the first agent who knew what she was doing. Jokingly, she suggested I should convey my praise to her superior. Lightning struck! I had her superior's email address.
Within minutes I promptly informed him of the angel who restored my confidence in their company. I also had the agent's personal email address. The chain of anonymity was broken. Phones became obsolete. When the technician did not arrive on the very next day, I emailed my agent, who now had a reputation to keep.
In only 24 hours, my computer was fixed, I made a woman happy, and I learned something I had failed to grasp earlier: Incentives make people do the right things. Positive incentives and a human touch go further than negative messages and threats often can.
Is this a private lesson only? I believe it can apply to public domains as well, where negative and brutal incentives led us directly nowhere.