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Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us

Customer Service and What It Reveals About Our World and Our Lives


Bring up the subject of customer service phone calls and the blood pressure of everyone within earshot rises exponentially. Otherwise calm, rational, and intelligent people go into extended rants about an industry that seems to grow more inhuman and unhelpful with every phone call we make. And Americans make more than 43 billion customer service calls each year. Whether it's the interminable hold times, the outsourced agents who can't speak English, or the multitude of buttons to press and automated voices to listen to before reaching someone with a measurable pulse -- who hasn't felt exasperated at the abuse, neglect, and wasted time we experience when all we want is help, and maybe a little human kindness?

Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us is journalist Emily Yellin's engaging, funny, and far-reaching exploration of the multibillion-dollar customer service industry and its surprising inner-workings. Yellin reveals the real human beings and often surreal corporate policies lurking behind its aggravating façade. After reading this first-ever investigation of the customer service world, you'll never view your call-center encounters in quite the same way.

Since customer service has a role in just about every industry on earth, Yellin travels the country and the world, meeting a wide range of customer service reps, corporate decision makers, industry watchers, and Internet-based consumer activists. She spends time at outsourced call centers for Office Depot in Argentina and Microsoft in Egypt. She gets to know the Mormon wives who answer JetBlue's customer service calls from their homes in Salt Lake City, and listens in on calls from around the globe at a FedEx customer service center in Memphis. She meets with the creators of the yearly Customer Rage Study, customer experience specialists at Credit Suisse in Zurich, the founder and CEO of FedEx, and the CEO of the rising Internet retailer Yellin finds out which country complains about service the most (Sweden), interviews an actress who provides the voice for automated answering systems at many big corporations, and talks to the people who run a website ( that posts codes for bypassing automated voices and getting to an actual human being at more than five hundred major companies.

Yellin weaves her vast reporting into an entertaining narrative that sheds light on the complex forces that create our infuriating experiences. She chronicles how the Internet and global competition are forcing businesses to take their customers' needs more seriously and offers hope from people inside and outside the globalized corporate world fighting to make customer service better for us all.

Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us cuts through corporate jargon and consumer distress to provide an eye-opening and animated account of the way companies treat their customers, how customers treat the people who serve them, and how technology, globalization, class, race, gender, and culture influence these interactions. Frustrated customers, smart executives, and dedicated customer service reps alike will find this lively examination of the crossroads of world commerce -- the point where businesses and their customers meet -- illuminating and essential.

Sharon Bicks©

Emily Yellin is the author of Our Mothers’ War, and was a longtime contributor to the New York Times. She has also written for Time, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Newsweek, Smithsonian Magazine, and other publications. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin—Madison with a degree in English literature and received a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee.

"If you've ever been frustrated by automated customer service lines, rude telephone service representatives or agents who can't speak intelligible English, this book is for you. Yellin dives into the often dysfunctional world of customer service, interviewing exasperated consumers, displeased CEOs and infuriated customer service reps. Readers will likely look at the industry differently and with more empathy." -- Publishers Weekly

"For small business owners, Yellin's prodigiously researched book is a useful cautionary tale." -- Fortune Small Business Magazine

"Ms. Yellin, a Memphis-based journalist, mixes polls and studies with excerpts from published reports and her own insightful reporting from call centers and related businesses in the U.S. and overseas... [she] is an illuminating guide whose conclusions are sound" -- Wall Street Journal

"After death, taxes and inclement weather, it's one of life's most inescapable downers: the customer-service call. Getting help can be an automated hell, an eternity of Muzak, code punching and security questions. Which is why the title of Emily Yellin's customer-friendly romp through this unfriendly world rings so true: 'Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us.'" -- Newsweek

"According to the author, [customer service is] a barometer of how we communicate and how we treat each other not only nationally but globally and across all sorts of barriers." -- Memphis Flyer

"Yellin divulges the woes of mistreated consumers, striking a chord not only with adults who have fantasized about destroying stubborn fax machines and voice recognition systems, but also those who take their revenge on companies by posting injustices on the Web. Yellin doesn't just dwell on complaints, however. She also looks at our nature to complain, what we complain about and how we do so. She adeptly covers the history of technology and its role in consumerism and customer service." -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)

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